Port Richmond: Planters Made Community Green Despite Gray Weather

Sue Pringle (left), a certified arborist, works alongside group leader Susan Freenan (right) dig a space for a new tree in Port Richmond.

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The miserable wet and cold did all it could to dampen the spirits of the Philly Tree Tenders as they attempted last weekend to spread green around Port Richmond. The spreading of cheerful green on Earth Day was not easy, but despite the elements the task at hand was taken and completed.

“We’re all volunteers, you can’t just change the date and hope to do it again, it has to be done now or never,” said Sue Pringle, the director of University City Green.

Sue Pringle (left), a certified arborist, worked alongside group leader Susan Freenan (right) to dig a space for a new tree in Port Richmond.

Pringle, along with her team of five tree tenders, planted six trees around Port Richmond on Sunday. Around the city more than 32 tree tenders took the task on the rainy day of visiting predetermined spots and carefully placing the trees in their new homes.

Many of the volunteers are only part-time horticulturalists or arborists, while others are students and community members who donated their time to beautifying the city. Danh Nguyen, a senior at Charles Carol High School in Port Richmond, has helped the tree tenders the last two years.

“I want to give back to the community and participate in a cool activity,” Nguyen said. “Other than this rain, it has been a really good experience.”

Sue Pringle, a horticulturalist and certified arborist, enthusiastically lead the group around Port Richmond, piling the members in her flatbed truck filled with uprooted trees, gardening supplies, shovels, pickaxes, mulch and more to fulfill the task.

“I could talk all day about the benefits of having a tree outside your home,” Pringle said. “They offer shade, a windbreaker in the winter, reduces the effects of asthma and it’s been proven that having trees increases the property value of your home.”

The rain did not damper group leader Susan Freenan's efforts of planting six trees around Port Richmond on Sunday, April 22.

In advance of the tree planting, homeowners at each site contacted the Philly Tree People and requested a green addition to their block. An arborist was sent to the home to examine the location and see if it was a tree-friendly location. After it was determined that the block was suited for a tree the Philly Tree People put in a request to the city for workers to come and cut out a square in the sidewalk. The members of various non-profit, tree-tending groups like University City Green were then tasked with filling the empty pits with lush greenery.

The Pennsylvania Horticulture Society trained the leaders and members of the groups with the art of planting and caring for the trees, but they left the act of planting to the groups themselves.

And, like the various groups working together, each tree was fostered with care by teamwork among the tree-tenders and by the cooperation of the homeowners.

“My wife asked around to see who we needed to contact for a new tree,” said James Maguire, homeowner and Port Richmond resident. “We called the Philly Tree People, the city came out and cut up the curb and now we have a brand new tree.”

The process of planting the trees is simple if key steps are followed. First, the depth of the tree must be precise, not too deep, not too shallow. The process of back-filling the hole gives the tree a firm bed, and a layer of mulch on top will feed the tree with nutrients in the following months. Finally, stakes are driven into the ground to not only secure the tree, but to protect it from swinging car doors.

Each homeowner is given a set of instructions to follow that includes certain guidelines determining whether the tree has received the care it needs.

“I’m out here everyday working around the property,” said Charles Schoffler, who was the recipient of a new Hornbeam. “It won’t be any problem to give the tree the care it needs.”

“I think it’s wonderful the city has a free program where all the homeowner has to do is say ‘yes’ and sign their name [for a tree] and we do the rest from there,” Pringle said.

Amanda Johnson made the effort to protect the tree with stakes from pedestrians and automobiles.

The tree-placing locales in Port Richmond varied from lush blocks that needed a replacement tree to blocks where the tenders took as much care clearing the street of hypodermic needles as they did planting the tree. Despite the dismal conditions on some blocks, the tenders said they hope their work will rejuvenate life in a section of the city where abundance fades in lieu of the bleak. With beautiful, tree-lined blocks, they said they hope people will come back to sections of Port Richmond and Kensington and fill them with life once again.

“We care about trees very much and we want to produce something nice,” said Pringle, drenched and ankle deep in water. “Part of this is appreciating our neighbors and letting them know we really care about this as volunteers, and we just want to leave each site better than when we started.”

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