A David Brothers employee lays Belgian blocks around a freshly planted tree. (Photo by Kevin Dicciani)

A David Brothers employee lays Belgian blocks around a freshly planted tree. (Photo by Kevin Dicciani)

by Kevin Dicciani

If you’ve been walking around Chestnut Hill the past two weeks, you’ve doubtlessly noticed that Germantown Avenue is brighter, greener.

The reason for this, the abounding trees and the leafy canopy, is the Chestnut Hill Community Fund’s Green Space Initiative project, “Re-Tree Chestnut Hill.”

The first trees – ten in total – were planted last fall by Laurel Hill Gardens. The planting resumed this spring, on April 17, when a tree was planted in front of the Carol Schwartz Gallery, the tree dedicated to her memory. Since then David Brothers Landscaping have planted 24 trees, with many more to come.

The goal of the project is to plant 63 trees along the Avenue. The variety of trees, purchased from a nursery in Chester Country, numbers 12. About five weeks of work remain in the project, one that has been in the works for more than half a decade.

The concept for the project was generated by the CHCF and the CHCA in 2010, when it received its first funding from the Black and White Gala and Main Street Fair, designated to be spent on greening the Avenue and its extended areas.

Then, in 2013, Jean Hemphill, at the time the president of the CHCF, and Jane Piotrowski, then president of the CHCA, formalized the Green Space Initiative. They began working out the details of how to propel the project forward while putting together a team of residents, business people and representatives from various community organizations, who together would advise the CHCF on how to make this idea a reality.

Celeste Hardester, the community manager of the CHCA and the administrative manager of the Green Space Initiative, said the project has always been about expanding the beauty of Chestnut Hill, a mission that those from the neighborhood’s past set out to accomplish as well.

“The whole idea of the program has been to address the fact that trees haven’t been regularly planted here since 50 years ago when Lloyd Wells planted the ginkgo trees that you see today,” Hardester said. “The new trees that are being planted will eventually provide the canopy when the ginkgoes diminish.”

To raise money for the planting the CHCF has been accepting contributions from residents and businesses. A branch, a tree, or an entire tree and tree-well are able to be adopted for a specific price ($150, $500 and $1500, respectively), all coming with their own token of gratitude.

If you adopt a branch, your name is added to a list of donors. If it’s a tree, your name along with all the others who adopted one will grace an honorarium plaque that will be erected somewhere in the community. And if it’s a tree and well, your name is etched onto a cobblestone marker.

So far $54,000 has been raised. Part of the money will be used in the next phase of the project, which will see trees planted in residential areas. The plans for this stage are set to commence within the next three months.

In the nascent stages of the project, the Green Space Initiative had to get permission from the Street Tree Management Division of Philadelphia’s Parks and Recreation for all of its landscaping plans. The city has limitations related to poles, gas mains, street signs, driveways and corners that prohibit trees from being planted in certain areas.

Additionally, property owners needed to give their permission prior to planting, Hardester said. If there are a few places where trees aren’t being planted, it’s because the property owners have declined or could not be reached.

Hardester said the trees that are being planted are “really beautiful” and of “substantial size.” Adding to that, she said her group has decided to plant an assortment of trees instead of one species, as variety ensures the safety of the trees, so that if one is affected by a blight, they will not all become afflicted.

Matthew Spector, vice president of operations for Bowman Properties and site manager for the Green Space Initiative, has been on the ground overseeing certain aspects of the planting. So far, the process he’s seen has been nothing but positive, albeit not without its challenges.

“David Brothers has done a really nice job,” Spector said. “But obviously it’s tough. You’re working around cars and pedestrians, so it takes time and you have to protect adjacent things, but it’s been going good.”

Spector said his workers have been trying to plant at least three to four trees a week. The ones that have existing pits already are easier to do, but the ones along the 8400 block of Germantown Avenue have required an added level of focus because of the amount of traffic and pedestrians. Nevertheless, the task is essential to maintaining the aura of the community.

“We have a lot of existing trees in Chestnut Hill, and a lot of them that have just suffered over the years or we’ve lost them altogether,” Spector said. “So I think it’s important to continue to replant as things get older so that when you lose another tree you’re already ahead of the game.”

Once the project is done, he noted, the community will reap the benefits of all the time and effort that has been put into the cause.

“I think it’s just going to add more beauty to the Avenue,” he said.

Hardester said the project is coming along so well because of the people involved with the Green Space Initiative. Because all of the members come from a diverse array of backgrounds, each possessing their own area of expertise, she said they have diversified the project by adding their unique touch to its envisioned outcome. But although they may come from various perspectives, they all have in common: a passion for trees.

“One of the fun things about this is that everyone of them loves trees,” Hardester said. “I always view them as a gift from the past. Often, when they’re in the full state, the person who planted them isn’t around anymore. And Chestnut Hill is endowed with a diverse variety of species, and some are very rare, so it’s important to continue that tradition.”

  • robert the bruce

    It should be pointed out that the City of Philadelphia also has a tree planting program. Any property owner, residential or commercial, can request free street and yard trees. It could take awhile as the current planting season is almost over. Also the City is doing a much better job of pruning street trees in recent years. Check it out : http://treephilly.org