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    Friday, March 01, 2024

    Green and Growing: Grassroots group plants street trees in New London

    New London Mayor Michael Passero joined school children and New London Trees members to plant a sugar maple at Williams Park in 2019. (photo courtesy of Maggie Redfern)

    Editor's Note: This new version catches some copy editing mistakes and adds two missing words.

    If New London looks a bit greener in 2021, some of the thanks should go to a grassroots citizens’ group that got started in 2018, New London Trees. Between a successful crowdfunding campaign and a matching grant from Sustainable CT, the group will spend almost $13,500 on the city’s leafy canopy this year.

    The funds will result in more than 30 new street trees. Green’s Harbor park on Pequot Avenue is among the first projects, where a recent stormwater mitigation project led to tree removals.

    “We chose species that are good at absorbing pollutants,” said Maggie Redfern, one of New London Trees founders and spokespeople.

    “They’ll be part of the solution for stormwater management, too,” she said, noting that tree canopies, trunks, and branches provide a surprising amount of surface area, all of which slow the impact of rainwater at a site.

    Selections for Green’s Harbor include American hornbeam, pepperidge, and sweetgum.

    Ashcraft Avenue, located off Connecticut Avenue, is another 2021 planting site. The recent street renovation provided the opportunity to widen green strips between sidewalks and the road. The group is advocating for widened planting strips in all street renovation projects.

    “Trees need more space than they’ve traditionally gotten in sidewalks,” said Redfern.

    Ashcraft is a walking route to New London middle and elementary schools.

    “Trees provide shade on hot days, and they absorb dust and pollutants,” said Redfern, describing two values they will provide children who use the route.

    Pepperidges, chestnut oaks, dogwoods, London planetrees, river birches, and Carolina silverbells will grow there.

    New trees will soon shade the parklet at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, too, known by many as the site of Wednesday afternoon farmers markets. Basswood, pepperidge, Cucumber Magnolia, Sassafras, Scarlet Oak, and Yellow Birch will enrich the area with color.

    The trees will also reduce “heat island” effects from the surrounding parking lot, according to New London Trees’ website.

    Williams Park and Williams Memorial Park recently lost trees, and both are in the group’s sights for future planting projects.

    “The goal of this group is to have a seat at the table in any discussion about the public property that affects street and park trees,” said Redfern. They meet on the second Tuesday of each month via Zoom. The group collaborates with Mayor Michael Passero and Director of Public Works Dave DeNoia, who participate in the monthly meetings.

    The Public Works Department will install the trees.

    Redfern says the city is starting to work on a five-year urban forestry management plan. It will take advantage of GIS data from 2018 and, combined with the urban census, help address “tree equity” across all neighborhoods.

    Pollinator pathways

    Pollinator Pathway gardens have become popular among shoreline conservation organizations and home gardeners. More than 100 regional organizations and individuals have placed themselves on the pathway map at www.pollinatorpathway.org. These gardens usually emphasize native perennial flowers, such as coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, goldenrods, butterfly weeds, and wild bergamots.

    Noting that several New Londoners have joined the Pollinator Pathway, Redfern said, “Native street trees are the perfect way to connect these pollinator projects.”

    According to Wilton resident Elizabeth Craig, trees and shrubs are arguably more valuable than perennial plants. Craig is a member of the steering committee that founded the Fairfield County Pollinator Pathway.

    “To improve pollinator habitat, you need to go beyond native perennials; you need to protect the native trees and shrubs,” she said. “Your trees are meadows in the sky.”

    Craig credited treesforever.org, a midwestern organization, with this catchy phrase.

    She pointed to research that shows oaks, for instance, support more than 500 species of moths and butterflies.

    Other native trees are nearly as crucial for these insects, including willows, black cherries, birches, poplars, red maples, elms, hickories, and alders.

    By contrast, the most pollinator-productive flowering perennials, goldenrods, support 14 species of moths and butterflies.

    A complete list of native species that New London Trees recommends, including botanical names, is available at newlondontrees.org/native-trees/.

    Maggie Redfern suggested that any resident can become involved with pollinators’ care and feeding through organizations such as New London Trees.

    “You don’t have to be a homeowner to get involved,” she said.

    Kathy Connolly writes and speaks on landscape ecology, horticulture, and landscape design. Reach her through her website, speakingoflandscapes.com.

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