Planting trees in neighbourhoods makes for a cooler and more liveable city

Karen's native verge garden
Karen's native verge garden

Recently I witnessed the demise of one of the oldest trees in our neighbourhood. The loss of this ‘mother tree’ prompted me to express my feelings in poetry. Later I found out that the tree had marri canker. If one of those huge branches had fallen, it could have caused significant damage. 

This situation, like clearing vegetation for bushfire protection, illustrates our often-fraught relationship with nature as development expands. Threats of more frequent and intense bushfires have led some people to fear bushland as a hazard to property and lives. At the same time, increasing average temperatures and heatwaves, especially in areas which suffer from the urban heat island effect, make trees more important than ever for our health and wellbeing. 

I was happy to read the letter from Margaret Anne Ryan in March suggesting planting verge trees. Greening our urban environments will be a key to liveability in the future. 

Some councils, including my Shire of Augusta Margaret River, have verge guidelines. Ours recognises that street trees are an integral component of urban streetscapes, providing shade, lowering ambient temperatures and assisting in reducing urban heat island effects and electricity use. Street trees perform important ecological functions and are effective at intercepting rainfall, resulting in reduced stormwater runoff and soil erosion. 

Our verge guidelines allow homeowners to plant native plants and shrubs and to grow food crops. When the guidelines were first developed 10 years ago in partnership with our community, some folk got together to help each other to transform their verges in a ‘verge blitz’. Others began planning a verge streetscape. 

You might like to check with your local council whether they have a policy on verge planting and any avenues for the community to access native plant seedlings for gardens and verges. 

Besides tackling heat stress, planting more native vegetation in parks, gardens and streets has wider benefits including habitat for birds and other wildlife, better water quality in rivers and wetlands and storing carbon; bringing nature back into urban areas creates places that are cooler, greener, friendlier and healthier for us.

Farewell old tree, marri, mother tree

Remnant of the living forest that once stood here.

The violent growl of chainsaw and chipper announced your demise

Limb by limb reduced to a pile of woodchips.

What crime did you commit?

Were you a fire danger, so close to a house?

Did a hint of marri canker label you unhealthy?

Was it fear that one of your huge branches might drop?

Or did your leaves block a gutter?

Maybe your vast spreading root system still has some life

Spreading your news on the network of mycorrhizae

Alarm! Warning nearby smaller trees to draw in

The mother tree is gone.

I wonder what you witnessed in this place we call home.

Were you here when quieter feet walked beneath branches

Calling to the forest of their coming

Noticing your flowering heralding the season’s change

Respecting the intricate balance of life?

Did you witness the spread of vineyards and paddocks

Leaving isolated remnant stands to harbour birds and possums

Shade the fields and remind us of what once was?

You were left standing almost alone when the mass of people came

With their roads and houses, fences and foreign trees.

A family built a home close by, and maybe they loved you.

Your giant stump marks a passing.

Mother tree. A gentler connection to country.

Maybe the sadness we feel at your loss is part of new hope.

Hope of a turning.

Hope of learning from the wisdom of the first people

And from the ache in our own hearts

To live gently on Wadandi Boodja.