Crazy about Trees: How a Community Garden was Created
I admit I have an obsession about planting trees, not in woods or National Parks but in green spaces and grass verges in housing estates where people, consciously or unconsciously, are relaxed by the changing colours of Spring and Autumn and the symmetry of bare branches in Winter.
My first effort was way back in the Sixties when members of my Nature Club each planted a sapling in the park surrounding their Primary School. Unfortunately, a public right of way bisected the park and within a fortnight all but three of the saplings had been vandalised. Several years later, our Parish Priest, my husband and I planted saplings round the boundary of our newly-built church. Sadly the church has been closed but at least the saplings, now fully grown, have a guaranteed future. A far-sighted neighbour had taken out a Tree Preservation Order.
Before the Government cuts, local Town Councils were very approachable on matters of conservation. Following my request for trees on the nearby Council Estate, an Officer asked me to accompany him and help identify places where trees could break the brick-bound monotony. Two months later a hundred trees were planted.
Ironically, vandalism on this Estate resulted in a tree-planting with unexpected social consequences. Teenagers had appropriated an ”Amenity Area” for evening football games. One night, they cut down a tree and ringbarked another in order to extend their playing area. I was incensed, but for local residents it was not a major concern. Balls were regularly hitting their parked cars and breaking plants in their front gardens. Remonstrations resulted in abuse, bad language and eggs thrown at windows. The shouting and noise of heavy boots on a full-sized football was forcing a man with tinnitus to spend his evenings in the back kitchen. We decided enough was enough and called a public meeting. Twenty people offered practical help. A committee was formed and “Friends of Pevensey Green” was born.
Money was raised for a path to bisect the Green and a shrub bed was established on one of the goal areas. Cherry and Mountain Ash trees were planted. But the teenagers were not prepared to play on the nearby public football pitches. They tore down notices and jumped on newly-seeded areas. Footballs were still kicked, damaging shrubs. One evening, the teenagers went too far and we had to call in the Police. From that day, apart from occasional sporadic outbreaks, teenage football disappeared and peace returned to the Green.
Nowadays, every morning and evening, dog walkers congregate at the seat on the Green to chat and discuss anything and everything. A heart-warming break, for these are elderly people who have lost a partner and must return to an empty and silent house.
Pope Francis recognised the interdependency of the world and its inhabitants but has his clarion call for the protection of the environment come too late? I fear so. Polar ice melts, yet we continue to pour out carbon, poison the sea with plastic, chop down rainforests, recklessly allow uncontrolled increase of the world`s population. In 2017, Dr Lovelock said his Gaia theory was no longer applicable as mankind`s excesses had tipped the balance too far and the earth could no longer self-regulate and recover.
Nevertheless, in defiance of the odds, I will continue to garden organically, provide my hedgehog with a house and the bumble bees with spring nectar. But, most importantly, I will continue to plant trees.
(This article first appeared in The National Justice and Peace Network Newsletter, May 2019)
Kath Shelton, National Justice and Peace Network member, Chesterfield