by Pete Mazzaccaro

Chestnut Hill is known for many things: historic homes, Belgian blocks and ample train stations. And it is also known for being one of the leafiest sections of the city with an abundance of trees from the edges of Fairmount Park to Stenton Avenue and from Cresheim Creek to the Morris Arboretum.

A new fundraising effort in Chestnut Hill is seeking to enhance that reputation with a concerted effort to address areas on Germantown Avenue and other well-traveled areas of the neighborhood where street trees haven’t faired so well.

That program is called “Re-tree the Avenue,” and is under the direction of a committee that represents a good cross-section of Chestnut Hill institutions including the Chestnut Hill Community Association and Community Fund, the Chestnut Hill Business Improvement District, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, Morris Arboretum, the Sisters of St. Joseph, Bowman Properties and a number of private practice architects and landscape designers.

The group has identified approximately 70 locations where trees should be planted – from empty tree wells to other sidewalk locations. To get trees into those locations, the group is soliciting funds for the endeavor. Anyone wishing to support the cause can contribute anywhere from $150 to $1,500.

Morris Arboretum’s award winning director Paul Meyer, a man who certainly knows his trees, was asked to join the committee when it formed at the end of the summer and has been a big part of the planning process. He said that, while the Hill’s reputation for trees is strong, there’s certainly a lot of room for improvement.

“This is the biggest effort I have been involved with,” he told the Local.“ Some areas, particularly on the lower hill are quite bare, with some existing trees in decline.”

Meyer said that others on the committee, like David Edgar of SED Design Studio, Joe Ascenzi of Laurel Hill Gardens and others, were responsible for identifying the target spots for trees to be planted. It was not an easy task due to a number of limitations and considerations.

“They evaluated existing trees and gaps, and appropriate spacing,” he said. “Also, they considered overhead wires. City code calls for trees to be set back from driveways, and utility boxes. Also, trees cannot be placed near handicapped parking spaces.”

The group has also targeted a wide variety of tree species to place in the wells. When many tree wells were originally planted, they contained Ginko trees, which are hardy and attractive, but produce notoriously repugnant fruit.

The campaign has a rolling funding target – to successfully plant trees in each space identified by the committee. Fundraising for the program is part of an already-created earmark of the Chestnut Hill Community Fund called “The Green Space Initiative.” That initiative came out of fundraising efforts from both the Black and White Gala and the Main Street Fair in 2010, which created a fund of nearly $50,000.

“Late last year, a brainstorming session was held to get the initiative rolling,” said Celeste Hardester, community manager for the Chestnut Hill Community Association. “Invited to the session were many professionals with diverse experience in horticulture, landscape architecture and project management. These people became core members of a group that has been expanding ever since.”

Hardester said fundraising efforts would continue as the project unfolds, with a hope to attract both public and private donations.

Why the additional effort to raise funds? Simple. The cost of planting and nurturing 70 new trees is significant.

“Just buying a tree is relatively inexpensive, say $400-600,” Meyer said. “However, the British say a penny for the plant and a pound for the planting. On Germantown Avenue, sites are variable, but in some cases the concrete must be cut and removed, rubble and debris removed, topsoil brought in and granite blocks laid in. This might raise the cost to $2,000 at the high end. We are working hard to provide ample root space for the trees, a key to long-term success.”

And once the tree is in the ground, it must be watered and maintained.

“The planting price will include a guarantee of one year. The trees will need to be watered at least weekly for the first year,” Meyer said. “We will probably use the watering bags you often see these days to insure deep, thorough watering of the root ball.”

As for the goals of the program, Meyer said that the program will continue beyond the Avenue.

“Germantown Avenue is the first priority, but later we are hoping to engage the broader community,” he said. “Probably a few with existing pits will go in this fall, with the more complex plantings going in late winter or early spring.”

For more information or to donate to the fund, see