Trees Please

As urban dwellers, we often take tree canopies for granted, or assume that the grey concrete we work in is just the way life is. The hidden treasure of this city is in the people who take initiatives to bring positive change.

I know trees are an important part of life on this planet, and I also know that there are very few trees where majestic forests once stood, so when LEAF, in tandem with the Annex Residents Association (ARA), offered a Tree Tour in my urban neighbourhood, I signed up. On the tour, LEAF’s ever-enthusiastic Amanda Gomm impressed me with not only the beauty but also the vulnerability of our tree canopy. Her passion and extensive knowledge encouraged us all to attend LEAF’s other tours and training.


After the tour, Michael Low, Chair of the ARA’s Parks and Trees Committee, asked me to volunteer for the ARA’s newly-established TreesPlease project.  The goal was to help define a baseline of forest conditions, increase the current tree canopy, improve biodiversity and promote tree stewardship in the community. I was eager to volunteer, but I had a lot to learn – I didn’t even know that tree roots spread horizontally!  As a start, I signed up for the next LEAF Tree Tenders course. 



With outside experts and the provision of excellent background notes, the course offered us a sense of how city trees can thrive, be cared for, and what hinders their growth.  We learned about municipal tree policy and practice, and we even experienced hands-on tree-planting (a lot to cover in four classes!)  I came of out of the course appreciating how complex and diverse trees are, and how essential they are to our health and community.



When it came time for TreesPlease to find savvy volunteers, several LEAF Tree Tender graduates came to share their own expertise. Along the way, Amanda continuously provided us with invaluable encouragement and resources as our mentor.  LEAF was always there to back us up and as a new group we were not resigned to starting from scratch.  We were able to garner substantial advice on how to attract potential volunteers and how to pique neighbour's interest in the Annex’s glorious aging tree canopy. 


Amanda was also instrumental in the development of our volunteer protocols, sharing key strategic outreach material with us, and providing materials for community events.  Recently, she and everyone at LEAF organized a reunion of Tree Tender graduates, complete with a talk by the City of Toronto’s Beth McEwan, bringing us up to date about the Emerald Ash Borer.  It was encouraging to be surrounded by other Tree Tenders, all of whom had similar concerns and had developed approaches unique to their own neighbourhoods.


I was amazed to learn that LEAF began through the efforts of one woman, Janet McKay, who long ago started sharing seeds with her own neighbours.  From that simple and generous beginning, LEAF has consistently provided practical knowledge and moral support throughout the city that other groups, including TreesPlease have needed as we have grown.


Susan De Rosa took the Tree Tenders Volunteer Training Courses in spring 2011.  To find out more about TreesPlease, or to get involved check out their website here.