On November 16, we will begin to install some temporary fencing in the Park to restrict access to specific areas, and to protect some trees that have been identified as “at risk”. We hope the community will be supportive and understanding as we take these necessary measures to ensure the beauty of our Park for next season, but, more importantly, to move forward our plan of treating and healing our Parks ecosystem.
Firstly, we will be erecting fencing around both the Gazebo planting beds and the Fountain planting beds to protect them while they are dormant and to protect the bulbs that will be planted in the next two weeks. The planting beds in the Park (including the bed in the Playground area) have always been restricted areas for children, pets, and adults. Going forward, we will be adding permanent fencing to certain beds, and replacing existing fencing with taller options in order to prevent any foot traffic in these areas. Constant entry into these beds by persons other than Conservancy personnel leads to plant and flower damage from trampling, pulling, and crushing. It also leads to soil compaction – an ongoing issue plaguing the rest of the Park soil – which can result in nutrient depletion, macro and micro organism death, and the inability of the soil to effectively absorb moisture. Humans and animals can also be effective vectors of disease amongst plants. Moving around in the beds can transfer fungal and bacterial disease to other plants and shrubbery very easily. We lost a few box shrubs in the Fountain Gardens this season due to an infection that took hold very rapidly – rows of shrubs, like we have, are very vulnerable to quickly spreading disease, and people and children running around them is a serious danger to their health. Horticulturists and gardeners in the Park treat these vulnerable situations with great care – disinfecting tools while pruning and limiting daily work to small areas – and we hope that the community will respect the care we take by staying out of these areas, keeping pets out, and teaching and monitoring children to no longer step over fencing into beds.
Secondly, we will be erecting temporary fencing around two trees in the Park that are facing further, possibly irreversible damage if access to them by the community is permitted to continue. To understand this decision more fully, it is important to have a full picture of the great challenges facing all the trees in our Park and their place in the Park ecosystem. There are essentially two levels of our Park canopy: The high canopy, which is created by the very old and very tall trees in the Park, and the lower canopy comprised of younger trees, or trees that do not generally grow extremely tall. The high canopy and it’s extensive coverage, serves to create the mostly shady and damp atmosphere of the Park in a majority of areas. The pervasive dampness, along with constant foot traffic, lack of sunlight, and other more minor issues has lead to soil compaction of a very serious nature. Morbid compaction – as we have – causes oxygen and nutrient absence in our soil, and also leads to the soil no longer being able to absorb water – as can be observed in many areas after frequent rain. There is no single solution to the compaction issue – it is a systemic problem, and many factors need to be addressed and solved before improvement will be seen. In the meantime, our Park trees shrubs, and herbaceous borders are suffering from it’s effects. Almost every tree in the Park has at least one fungal disease – some more damaging than others, and certainly all fungal disease can weaken and cause vulnerability to other more serious infections and infestations. These diseases spread quickly through fungal spores in the wind, infected leaves left on the ground and blown in the autumn, and human contact spreading. These diseases are able to enter healthy trees and plants through wounds in trunks, branches, and stems caused either by insects and animals, or by human damage.
With all this in mind, we ask the community to be understanding as we make decisions now, and in the future, to fence off and restrict contact with certain trees. We will be temporarily fencing off the Spruce tree adjacent to the Fountain Garden in the South / Southwest area of the Park. We are fully aware that this is a tree that is very popular for children to climb, and that it’s restriction will be a hard blow. But, it is because it is an especially beloved tree that we are taking measures to ensure it’s future health. It is for the very reason that it is so loved that we must give it a rest for a while. We have estimated that in the summer, somewhere between 50 to 100 children might have been in this tree on a given day. This level of heavy contact simply cannot be sustained by any tree without putting extreme stress physically on the limbs. Both feet and other implements (the trunk has had marking carved in it) can erode and cut into the bark, and, as stated above, that is how infections can enter into trees. Our Park ecosystem is rife with fungal disease – and any wound damage can easily result in infection. Fungal infections in Evergreen Trees can attract and lead to insect infestation, and many of these diseases have no actual cures – only prevention. The soil under the Spruce, due to hundreds upon hundreds of feet directly under it weekly, has become dangerously compacted and eroded to the point where the tree’s roots have been bared and exposed, and the soil can no longer be useful to the tree for nutrient and water uptake. There are no open symptoms of disease in the Spruce yet, however all the other Evergreen Trees in the Park have fungal disease (the Juniper, and Pine) and are showing marked decline. All these factors have lead us to make the decision to fence this tree to protect it from what we see as inevitable decline if left, as it is, to community interference. We will keep a close eye on it throughout the Fall and Winter, work to remediate, amend, and protect the soil underneath it, and then re- evaluate the situation in the Spring before making any further or possibly permanent restriction decisions. We encourage the community and schools to use this as a teaching opportunity for children about tree stewardship and health. We will be placing a sign on the fencing with our children in mind: “Tree healing in progress, thank you for understanding”.
The other tree that will be fenced to restrict human contact is the Park’s only Oak Tree that sits in the Southwest / West area. The large canker in it’s trunk is very worrying to us, as well as the water that constantly pools around its roots (due to extreme compaction). The constant dampness will lead to root rot, but, more importantly, any weakening of this tree can make it vulnerable to Oak Wilt. Oak Wilt is a very serious disease affecting Oak trees that came from the Western US and has been identified in our area. It is a very virulent fungal disease that can kill a tree in one season. We feel that, in it’s already weekend state, we must protect this, our Oak from any further damage or vector that could increase it’s vulnerability to Wilt. We also will be working on strategies to improve the drainage underneath it – strategies that, if successful, could be applied to other severely compacted areas of the Park. We will also be using space in this fenced area to experiment with de-compacting the soil, bringing nutrients into it, and increasing it’s success in growing protective grass – all of which, while helping the tree, will hopefully lend future success to all compacted areas of the Park. We will be happy to update the community on the progress of all these measures. It is very likely that this tree will be permanently fenced in the future – with the lovely wrought -iron fencing that can be seen elsewhere in the Park, but we will evaluate the situation first before making that decision next year.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. We have been able to provide the community, through this detailed explanation, a glimpse into the Horticulture and Ecosystem of the Park and the challenges we are facing. Though we may have expertise in our fields, we are all Volunteers in our care for the Park. New decisions are going to be made going forward, but they are all for the health, preservation, and beauty of the Park that we ALL love. The time of Covid has made us all so much more aware of how precious the Park is to us, and how important our stewardship commitments are. Horticulture, Arboriculture, and gardening are all about the future – all about next season, and the years to come. Please help us by being understanding and supportive of our work, and know that it all comes from a place of preservation and care. Also, if you are able, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the Conservancy so that our work may continue to ensure a beautiful Park for the future.
Hamilton Park Conservancy