With the arrival of spring comes that wonderful sense that everything is coming back to life. As weather warms and our deciduous trees slowly begin to leaf out, we become immediately aware of their visual impact on our landscapes. But we are also reminded of the critical role they play in the function of our ecosystem. Trees are the lifeblood of Toronto’s landscapes.
Maintaining and restoring our native and heritage trees is critical to preserving and enhancing biodiversity and ecological function in our urban spaces. Native trees provide a myriad of benefits, including creating habitat for birds, insects and animals; creating shade and cooling temperatures in summer; producing oxygen and absorbing CO2; reducing erosion; and managing storm water runoff.
They support the growth of other native plant material, require less water, fertilizer or pesticides and are more resilient to extreme weather events.
Esthetically, they are beautiful. They have incredible size, seasonal colour, gorgeous branching structure and unparalleled character. Some of my favourites are the American beech, sugar maple and black locust.
A new generation of growers and foresters are studying Toronto’s historical native trees and using them to grow native trees that can be reintroduced into the environment.
Wilder Ventures is at the forefront of this work, and the team, led by Eric Davies, has successfully started Toronto’s first native tree nursery, providing a seed bank and tree supply for trees that have proven to survive and thrive in the GTA. The DNA of these “ecological elders” is being valued, harnessed and reintroduced to the landscape, and I think it’s brilliant.
As you get into the garden this season, ask your local nursery about indigenous plants, trees and shrubs that you can incorporate into your space, especially if you’re near the ravine system.
Understanding and valuing that your garden is part of the city’s natural ecosystem is critical, and it’s something I focus on in all of my projects.
At my most recent project in Rosedale, No. 7 Dale Residences, it was a key priority of ours to preserve and protect some of the majestic heritage trees on site, which lend significant character, presence and privacy to the property.
We worked with Hariri Pontarini Architects early on in the process to site the proposed residential building outside of the tree root zone of several large specimens in order to ensure that they are protected for the duration of construction.
We’ve also added native trees throughout the landscape, which gently feathers down into the ravine. The future owners of these residences will now be able to enjoy the natural beauty and benefits of these trees and the ravine landscape.
I am excited about this work because in a place where we are otherwise seeing a decline in the quality of the ravine landscape ecology, as well as a natural end to the lifespan of many trees originally planted when Rosedale was developed well over a hundred years ago, we have an opportunity to consciously plant with hardy native species that will thrive and bring biodiversity back to the area. It’s important for our firm to work with clients and design teams that place significant value on native and heritage trees to protect the historic architecture and lush greenery of the development site.
We are at a critical juncture where policy decisions and public opinion will have a tremendous impact on the future of our urban forest and ultimately how we brace for climate change. We have an opportunity now to make informed decisions that make sense economically, ecologically and esthetically and for that reason, when possible and appropriate, we will be planting native.