A group of volunteers in Queen Village known as the Tree Tenders came together on Nov. 19 for their bi-annual tree planting. They devoted their Saturday morning to improving the quality of life in the neighborhood.
Volunteers were dispersed in groups of four throughout the community, as well as across other sections of the city.
“It was a really exciting day for the city. All across Philadelphia, on the same day, every neighborhood plants,” said Kelly Joyce, a volunteer for more than four years. “The homeowners have to be there the day you’re going to plant the tree, and they are so excited, it’s like you’ve brought them a new baby. They are so happy.”
For the homeowners, the trees are free of charge. The trees are completely funded by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. If there is a cement patch that can be used for a tree well, even the cement removal costs nothing for the property owner. All they have to agree to do is water the tree through its first summer.
A few weeks prior to the citywide tree planting day, Mayor Jim Kenney released Greenworks: A Vision for a Sustainable Philadelphia, a plan to make the city a greener place. Andrew Sharp in the city’s Office of Sustainability described the effort as something that will “help create a city where all Philadelphians enjoy benefits from sustainability, including improved public health, a clean environment, and opportunities to learn, work and prosper.”
In seven years, Tree Tenders has planted roughly 300 trees throughout Queen Village.
“We go around and find places to plant the trees, and then we have to get the property owners to sign a form for permission, which then goes to the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society,” said Tree Tenders director Dan Gibbon. “A city arborist then comes out and looks at the site to make sure there are no fire hydrants or anything like that, and see if it’s okay to plant it there. They also select the tree that goes there, based on how big the tree pit is and if there are overhead wires.”
The Tree Tenders is one of the most prominent urban tree planting programs in the country, and is also one of the oldest in the world, according to the horticultural society. Volunteers who currently work with the Queen Village branch say they have participated in similar planting efforts in places like Richmond, Virginia, and Baltimore, Maryland.
“In Baltimore, it was a citywide tree tendering group, not a neighborhood thing like we have here,” volunteer Karen Murray said. “We would still plant trees, count them and see which ones were dead or not looking too good.”
Unlike the trees that go dormant for the winter, the Tree Tenders stay active even in the cold months. They prune branches, turn soil and aerate the ground, topping it with mulch.
“It could easily be a full-time job,” Gibbon said. “After we plant the trees, there’s pit maintenance sessions and also a fair amount of pruning. So everything that needs to be done to take care of the trees in between the planting is what we do.”
Community members seem to appreciate the Tree Tenders, and the volunteers note the program brings environmental benefits as well as a sense of belonging and friendliness to the area.
“When you plant trees, you get to know your neighbors. I get to know the people we’re planting trees with, and also the people I’m planting trees for,” Joyce said. “So all of a sudden, I know my neighbors I wouldn’t know before. It makes the community more of a lively place.”
Longtime resident and business owner Tricia Fleishman agreed that trees – and the volunteers who care for them – are one reason the street is so beautiful.
“In an urban area, it’s nice to look around and see all of the trees they plant,” Fleishman said. “It makes my home and store feel welcoming.”
– Text, images and video by Marissa Giletto and Kylie Winkler