BY SEAN KELLY
So why should we care about trees in poor neighbourhoods? Simple: trees change the feel of the community and the behaviour of its residents. Trees and green spaces add to a feeling of prosperity, safety and well-being. They imbibe a sense of community pride and, without doubt, improve social stability. Why 10 000 trees? Well, there are a lot of streets and precious few trees in the neighbourhoods we are targeting. So when the Kariega Project first touted the idea of a tree planting programme about a year ago, I honestly asked myself, 'How difficult could it be? Right?'. Well, we've learnt a lot in a year and it's been both easy and frustratingly difficult at the same time.
First things first, we had to decide on the type of tree. Not only did it have to be indigenous, but it had to be rather hardy. Our little corner of paradise experiences high winds from two of the four cardinal points for most of the year. It's the type of thing that only a true-born local would miss when they are away. We are also quite prone to extended droughts. Added to this is the clay soil of the target neighbourhoods. Little wonder that 90% of the trees planted by previous programmes have died. I've precious little horticultural knowledge, so I took a walk around the community to see what had actually survived. This helped me settle on two species: Cape Ash and Wild Plum.
We knew that money would always be a problem and so decided to start planting our own trees. Google told us that both species could easily be grown from cuttings. Google might be lying... I'm not sure. From 70 cuttings, none survived. Next, we tried germinating seeds. Dutifully, I walked the avenues collecting seeds; no doubt with many a resident shaking their head at this display of eccentricity. Alas, less than 20% germinated. We then turned to nature and discovered that the best way to go was to scour the underbrush for young seedlings and saplings to transplant. The survival rate is at about 90% and we now have over 150 healthy saplings. On this success, we have come to an agreement with a local retirement village (with sizable grounds) whose residents were removing hundreds of seedlings each year. Now, those seedlings come to us!
Next was the question of the planting location, which came with a few unexpected factors. Having addressed the environmental factors, we now had to contend with goats, cattle, politicians, vandals and the apathy of many. I was told by some people that the 10k tree challenge was a fool's errand. Some from the affluent suburbs told me that 'they' (those living in the poor neighborhoods) didn't appreciate trees and wouldn't look after them. The politicians expressed a desire to direct the planting. Many community residents told me that it was pointless as the goats and cattle would make short work of them. Luckily, I had the support of the motivated few. I thanked all and sundry for their advice and set about minimising the risk.
We began by limiting our first planting to 50 trees: 10 for each of our partner organisations. With the ball now in their court, each partner had to decide where to plant their trees and how they would be maintained throughout the year. We thanked the politicians for their 'guidance' but pointed out that the Kariega Project had no control over where the tree were to be planted. That was up to our community partners. Next we turned our attention to the two-legged vandals and the four-legged raiders. We took the decision to purchase saplings that were over 180cm and, around the stem, to fit 110mm pvc pipping to a height of 1.5m. Each sapling and piping will be secured by three bamboo stakes harvested from a roadside thicket.
So that's our plan for the inaugeral planting of the 10k Tree Challlenge. Talk is cheap though. The real test will be how many of the 50 sapling are alive a year from now. My landscaping friends tell me to expect 50%; the optimist in me says 80%. Regardless, I'm looking forward to the lessons learnt from next Friday and the year ahead. The importance of the challenge demands it.