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GardenSMART Episode

Show #40/5401. Trees Atlanta

Summary of Show

Scope Of Trees Atlanta
Eric would like to talk about the scope of TREES ATLANTA. He's noticed that it encompasses all of Atlanta, yet they have other partner cities they work with as well. Tell us about that. Trees Atlanta is a nonprofit group, basically a nonprofit citizens group so most of the work they do is through community volunteers. The mission is to plant, protect and educate people about the importance of trees.

For More Information Click here

Importance Of Urban Landscape And Trees
Lets talk about the IMPORTANCE OF URBAN LANDSCAPE AND TREES. It's often times one of those things that we don't even realize how important it is until it's not there, until it's gone. It is so true people just don't even notice trees are gone until they're gone. Then it hits them - Oh no, somebody is cutting three acres of trees down and before that they've been passing the forest the whole time, even when signage went up "it's coming soon" they didn't even really notice, until the trees were being removed. And, once they're gone is almost impossible to get it back.

For More Information Click here

Neighborwoods
Eric would next like for Greg to talk about "NEIGHBORWOODS." One could say it is the heart or the core of Trees Atlanta. What do they do? Neighborwoods is a program that is actually all over the country. There are many groups like Trees Atlanta, about 120 groups throughout the country. Neighborwoods focuses on encouraging communities to plant trees in the most urban areas, usually right in front of houses or churches, in the right of ways, between the sidewalk and the curb. The idea is to really be more visible with trees, make a comfortable sidewalk, importantly that's where a lot of where air pollution is.

For More Information Click here

Education
Eric knows a huge part of what Trees Atlanta does is EDUCATE PEOPLE about trees, the importance of trees, how to take care of trees. That is correct, education has always been a part of their mission and in the last seven or eight years they've realized that we cannot plant ourselves into keeping our canopy. Instead we really need to focus on educating both young and old about the the importance of trees. To that end they employ kids in the summer to come work with them. They actually educate them one day a week about different green jobs. Then might go to Georgia Tech to learn about architecture and city planning, they may go to botanical gardens, Atlanta Botanical Gardens is one, to show them one can work in a greenhouse or in landscape. It's showing kids they can make a profession out of their love for plants.

For More Information Click here

Beltline
One of the most important urban development programs or projects going on in the United States right now is the BELTLINE project in Atlanta. It basically is designed to be a trail that connects parks and neighborhoods that were formerly separated by woods. In many cases everybody had just turned their backs on the area because it was an old rail corridor and it basically became a haven for kudzu. Everybody put fences up and didn't talk to their neighbors on the other side. Trees are such a huge part of this project in the way the project is revitalizing many of these neighborhoods that had been kind of forgotten.

For More Information Click here

Beltline Is A Huge Yard For Many
Of course there are a lot of residential developments that are right on the Beltline and for most people this is their defacto garden. Many times Eric has been out on the Beltline he will see tons of volunteers and people who are able to leave their condominium and actually get in involved in planting wild flowers, planting shrubs and the many, many trees that are on the Beltline. And it takes a lot of people to make happen. If you live in an apartment and don't have a yard, with the BELTLINE YOU STILL HAVE A HUGE YARD and one can be a part of the amazing project by just helping to plant it or care for it. And it impacts a lot of people.

For More Information Click here

Endangered Ecosystem
This is an arboretum and it provides such a great opportunity to let people know about the long leaf pine ecosystem in south Georgia. They have done a planting demonstration in the next area we visit, it is an ENDANGERED ECOSYSTEM. And the beauty of this ecosystem is that it contains everything from the long leaf pine to the pitcher plant that might be growing in it or even the gopher tortoise. It's hard to get 1.7 million urbanites to go to South Georgia to learn about this ecosystem but they can actually educate people right here.

For More Information Click here

Beech Circle
Greg and Eric next visit a spot that's one of Eric's favorites on the Beltline. It's actually a connector trail on the Beltline. This is the BEECH CIRCLE. The beech circle is here to celebrate how beautiful beech trees are and the uniqueness of them, their smooth gray bark and the way they get coppery buds. Its a pretty, beautiful tree. In the circle, you're surrounded by the trees and as the trees grow up and one comes back year to year you see the beauty and how they change as time goes by.

For More Information Click here

Forest Reclamation
Another important ongoing aspect of what Trees Atlanta does is FOREST RECLAMATION, or if you will, restoration. What do those efforts look like? With their restoration work they find a lot of invasive, exotic species. These are species from foreign places that aren't used to our local landscape or our ecosystem. Sometimes they can be very aggressive. Kudzu is an example, as is wisteria or English ivy. None are great plants. Greg and his group basically choke them out. They try to rebalance the forest and do that by ripping plants like these out.

For More Information Click here

Invasive Species
Many of these INVASIVE SPECIES started off as good ideas, for example think about when kudzu came to the U.S. It was intended to assist in erosion control. There are many other plants that started off as ornamentals, they may have made a lot of sense in that moment but many decisions to utilize these plants were made without really understanding what the ultimate impact of what that plant was going to be. So, mistakes were made. And often herbicides were then needed to alleviate the problem plant. With kudzu you are talking about a plant that is nearly impossible to kill because it is driven by a tuber oftentimes the size of a watermelon and it's three feet under the soil.

For More Information Click here

Educational Component/Oak Trees
This section is a wonderful example of the EDUCATIONAL COMPONENT of Trees Atlanta. Here they have an amazing planting of 28 Georgia native oaks. People are able to come by and actually see them all arranged in a very creative planting accompanied by beautiful sculpture. This is one of Greg's favorite places on the Beltline and it talks a little bit about what arboretums can be. Arboretums do include art but usually it's mostly just for the beauty of the art but Trees Atlanta likes for art to be educational as well as beautiful. Native oaks may be the most important tree to the state from a wildlife standpoint.

For More Information Click here

LINKS:

Show #40/5401. Trees Atlanta

Transcript of Show

In this episode GardenSMART takes a walk in one of the largest cities in America and talks about what it takes to care for and promote Atlanta's urban forest. Trees Atlanta's co-executive director & chief program officer, Greg Levine joins us, talks trees and what they are doing to ensure Atlanta maintains its green canopy.

Since 1985 Trees Atlanta has provided communities throughout the city with the tools and know-how to plant and care for Atlanta's urban forrest. Eric welcomes Greg to the show and thanks him for joining us. Greg returns the compliment and thanks Eric and GardenSMART for including him in the TV show.

Eric feels Greg has a fascinating job, there are so many amazing things that Greg does with Trees Atlanta. It would have taken so much vision to have started this very ambitious company and very ambitious programs. Eric would like for Greg to talk a little bit about what got him interested in horticulture initially and his early roots that led to this love of trees that has now blossomed into Trees Atlanta. Greg's mom most likely was the one individual that got him started. There were many other people but his mother had him helping with the landscape at an early age and he loved it. Even when in kindergarten they had projects where they had, for example, a little cup with a piece of corn in it. He remembers watching it grow. Then later he had a little black box with a clear top with some cotton, then putting a peanut in there and watching it grow. Greg was just fascinated by it. Then his family moved to a house that had woods in the back. It's amazing the diversity in Atlanta forests. If one is at all interested you could basically never be bored. Especially when you have a forest behind your house.

Eric would like to talk about the scope of TREES ATLANTA. He's noticed that it encompasses all of Atlanta, yet they have other partner cities they work with as well. Tell us about that. Trees Atlanta is a nonprofit group, basically a nonprofit citizens group so most of the work they do is through community volunteers. The mission is to plant, protect and educate people about the importance of trees. All of their programming goes into that mission. The goal for the organization is to protect the City of Atlanta's canopy which at this point is 48% so they have a number of different programs that range from tree planting programs with staff, as well as tree planting with volunteers. A majority of their trees that go in, over 5,000 trees a year, were planted with volunteers. Then they have restoration programs. They are all over the city, they do plantings literally from the most southern side of the city to the most northern. But they've also started to move outside the City of Atlanta to promote tree planting because tree loss issue in metro areas goes beyond save Atlanta.

Lets talk about the IMPORTANCE OF URBAN LANDSCAPE AND TREES. It's often times one of those things that we don't even realize how important it is until it's not there, until it's gone. It is so true people just don't even notice trees are gone until they're gone. Then it hits them - Oh no, somebody is cutting three acres of trees down and before that they've been passing the forest the whole time, even when signage went up "it's coming soon" they didn't even really notice, until the trees were being removed. And, once they're gone is almost impossible to get it back. Having a better urban ecology or a better forest or more nature around you is really important for people to be happy. And it impacts the air quality as well, trees absorb a lot of carbon dioxide. It's where much of the oxygen that we breathe comes from. So trees effect air quality, trees produce the oxygen that we need to breathe, they actually pull pollutants out of the air through their leaves. As well, with no trees pollutants wash to the ground when it rains. The first filtering of rain water and storm water comes through trees roots and leaves so we have an opportunity to take our precious resource of water and filter it into our ground water as opposed to it washing along the pavement collecting oil and rapidly moving straight into our creeks. Instead we are filtering it through the ground and additionally cooling the city. They actually have a camp at Trees Atlanta and in their camp the kids have been measuring the heat on the Beltline and finding that the temperature difference between a tree on the side of the path and right in the center of the path can be as much as twenty degrees. So, trees can be a huge factor in people wanting to be outside when they are twenty degrees cooler versus being on hot pavement. That means one will exercise more, get out in nature more, so more reasons that trees are so important. And Greg thinks trees actually reduce smog, through keeping the environment cooler. A heated up environment actually helps create smog and more pollution in the atmosphere.

Eric would next like for Greg to talk about "NEIGHBORWOODS." One could say it is the heart or the core of Trees Atlanta. What do they do? Neighborwoods is a program that is actually all over the country. There are many groups like Trees Atlanta, about 120 groups throughout the country. Neighborwoods focuses on encouraging communities to plant trees in the most urban areas, usually right in front of houses or churches, in the right of ways, between the sidewalk and the curb. The idea is to really be more visible with trees, make a comfortable sidewalk, importantly that's where a lot of where air pollution is. The Neighborwoods program is kind of their billboard because they are out there every Saturday, sometimes in three different neighborhoods at the same time, planting trees right in front of people's houses. People are watching them plant these trees and experiencing firsthand the beauty of trees. They had 33,000 volunteer hours last year alone. A majority from this program so you can imagine how many people that is planting trees. And, it's kind of a starting point, it's kind of how you get people addicted. They plant a tree, they have fun, they are with people who are all coming here to do something very positive and their contribution, even if you planted just that one time, continues to grow and grow and grow.

Also, as we think about urban environments, many people don't have a yard and they don't actually have a place to garden. So Neighborwoods also allows people the opportunity to take an active role in gardening and planting trees. And over the years walking through a neighborhood, just the satisfaction they get from knowing that's a tree I planted five years ago and then watching it grow, being able to enjoy it and having taken an active role in actually improving the neighborhood, it's fantastic. First of all they are contributing to their own community. They are a citizens group, they want people to contribute. They get a lot of people who the first time they ever dig into the dirt is with Trees Atlanta. They've actually had some volunteers that have been contributing for 20 years. But because you can see that contribution, if it's in your neighborhood, every day and you can watch it grow and you know that you are a part of making the city better, it can be very rewarding.

Eric knows a huge part of what Trees Atlanta does is EDUCATE PEOPLE about trees, the importance of trees, how to take care of trees. That is correct, education has always been a part of their mission and in the last seven or eight years they've realized that we cannot plant ourselves into keeping our canopy. Instead we really need to focus on educating both young and old about the the importance of trees. To that end they employ kids in the summer to come work with them. They actually educate them one day a week about different green jobs. Then might go to Georgia Tech to learn about architecture and city planning, they may go to botanical gardens, Atlanta Botanical Gardens is one, to show them one can work in a greenhouse or in landscape. It's showing kids they can make a profession out of their love for plants. One of the basic lessons that Greg often hears is that when you can identify a plant or an animal your love for that plant or animal grows. Once you know a white oak is a cornus alba and see that white oak when you are walking down the street and you can identify it, if somebody is going to cut that tree down you are going to be more upset. It has a name now and you connect to the name. When you can identify something it makes you connect to everything around. So really getting to know and develop that relationship by just knowing a name is really important. When they go to a public garden understanding what that is and the importance of it and the utility of it is more obvious - the 00 that is just out there, it becomes something we're accustomed to, just driving past and not really appreciating what it is and how important it is for communities. Educating folks about the trees and plants is most helpful in being connected to our surroundings. It's not just being part of a neighborhood it's being part of the entire community, which is every living thing in it. They really focus on getting people just to care about the ecology and the forests that Atlanta has and what that forest provides us. Hopefully as they grow their education program they will continue to reach more people and that will create a city that continues to be forested, ecologically diverse and rich, and a city that stands out. A city that stands out as being a city that's really growing in population and also growing green.

One of the most important urban development programs or projects going on in the United States right now is the BELTLINE project in Atlanta. It basically is designed to be a trail that connects parks and neighborhoods that were formerly separated by woods. In many cases everybody had just turned their backs on the area because it was an old rail corridor and it basically became a haven for kudzu. Everybody put fences up and didn't talk to their neighbors on the other side. Trees are such a huge part of this project in the way the project is revitalizing many of these neighborhoods that had been kind of forgotten. But without trees specifically, one could most likely say the project would have not gained the momentum it actually has. It's so important just the way people experience the Beltline and important from an educational standpoint having the little stone markers where you can actually learn about all the different species that are planted, they really add a tremendous amount to the experience. It does, it's an amazing project. It is the largest infrastructure project of its kind in the country. Originally it was going to be a bike path that connected parks and new development and stemmed from a graduate thesis done by Ryan Gravel at Georgia Tech. They really hadn't thought about the nature element of it, making it a more pleasant place to be but that's how Trees Atlanta got involved, actually not just to plant trees on the Beltline but to actually make it an arboretum, which is a botanical garden focusing on woody species. So this is the longest lined arboretum in the country. They've planted thousands of trees on the Beltline already, it would not be a pleasant place to be if it didn't have a good shade canopy.

Of course there are a lot of residential developments that are right on the Beltline and for most people this is their defacto garden. Many times Eric has been out on the Beltline he will see tons of volunteers and people who are able to leave their condominium and actually get in involved in planting wild flowers, planting shrubs and the many, many trees that are on the Beltline. And it takes a lot of people to make happen. If you live in an apartment and don't have a yard, with the BELTLINE YOU STILL HAVE A HUGE YARD and one can be a part of the amazing project by just helping to plant it or care for it. And it impacts a lot of people. There are nearly two million people that experience the Beltline on an annual basis and that number continues to grow. It is becoming more and more popular so a meaningful chunk of the population of Atlanta is now being exposed to all these different species, actually getting out and learning about nature. It's so much more than just a recreational or transportation solution. It's fantastic that 1.7 million people are enjoying nature but also educating them that they are in a ecologically diverse place.

This is an arboretum and it provides such a great opportunity to let people know about the long leaf pine ecosystem in south Georgia. They have done a planting demonstration in the next area we visit, it is an ENDANGERED ECOSYSTEM. And the beauty of this ecosystem is that it contains everything from the long leaf pine to the pitcher plant that might be growing in it or even the gopher tortoise. It's hard to get 1.7 million urbanites to go to South Georgia to learn about this ecosystem but they can actually educate people right here. Eric finds as he's on the trail there's a lot of really interesting signage that's placed throughout that explains interesting points like this is what a prairie is or this is why these trees are planted this way. Even as a horticulturalist and an avid gardener there are so many interesting tidbits that he's picked up while out just enjoying a sunny day. It's great.

The prairie on the east side was actually planted all by volunteers on a much smaller budget. People don't even think we have prairies here yet the grasses and wildflowers are quite beautiful. It's a different landscape but it's also super important for pollinators that many people don't think about. And people when they see a prairie on a big project like this start to realize this is an adaptable and beautiful landscape, even in Georgia. One doesn't need to go to the midwest to see a prairie or meadow, you can visit one right here. Every mile can become an opportunity to educate people about some of the beauty and the nature in Georgia, it's ecosystems and the diverse ecology Georgia has to offer.

Greg and Eric next visit a spot that's one of Eric's favorites on the Beltline. It's actually a connector trail on the Beltline. This is the BEECH CIRCLE. The beech circle is here to celebrate how beautiful beech trees are and the uniqueness of them, their smooth gray bark and the way they get coppery buds. Its a pretty, beautiful tree. In the circle, you're surrounded by the trees and as the trees grow up and one comes back year to year you see the beauty and how they change as time goes by. One can see the leaves emerging in copper and then the beautiful, yellow, bronzy fall color one sees later in the year. So it's really a way to bring more attention to one particular species. It's a beautiful, beautiful place. This is an especially incredible development and, of course Trees Atlanta has had a huge impact on this area and it really looks great.

Another important ongoing aspect of what Trees Atlanta does is FOREST RECLAMATION, or if you will, restoration. What do those efforts look like? With their restoration work they find a lot of invasive, exotic species. These are species from foreign places that aren't used to our local landscape or our ecosystem. Sometimes they can be very aggressive. Kudzu is an example, as is wisteria or English ivy. None are great plants. Greg and his group basically choke them out. They try to rebalance the forest and do that by ripping plants like these out. They might introduce goats or sheep that typically eat those invasive plants. Once they remove the invasive species they then begin to plant native species in their place. And, they work in about thirty different green spaces with both staff and volunteers to actually rebalance that system because what oftentimes happens is in park areas and forest areas there is a lot of edge, just what they have on the Beltline. And when you have a lot of edge you have places for invasive plants to get in to the forest. As well when the city clears for sewer lines they create a lot of cleared land and that is where invasive plants just kind of grow. So they try to rebalance and help make our forests continue to have a diverse group of plants with native plant species and trees to support native insects, native birds, and native animals.

Many of these INVASIVE SPECIES started off as good ideas, for example think about when kudzu came to the U.S. It was intended to assist in erosion control. There are many other plants that started off as ornamentals, they may have made a lot of sense in that moment but many decisions to utilize these plants were made without really understanding what the ultimate impact of what that plant was going to be. So, mistakes were made. And often herbicides were then needed to alleviate the problem plant. With kudzu you are talking about a plant that is nearly impossible to kill because it is driven by a tuber oftentimes the size of a watermelon and it's three feet under the soil. That makes it a particularly terrible plant, a difficult plant to eradicate. Of course it is all over Georgia, most sites that are open and have been left dormant long enough kudzu has a way of finding. Kudzu was and is a real problem on the Beltline. The Beltline was an old rail line, kudzu moved down through twenty-two miles of old rail into forty-five different neighborhoods. So it became this vector, this vector that would follow the old train line and into everybody's houses and businesses. Now that they are clearing it off of the Beltline it is moving back from forested green spaces and moving back from peoples individual houses and businesses. But it is a never-ending project, there's always this battle of the plant bullies moving in and needing to be pushed back out. But it is so important for a healthy plant ecosystem, the natives are supported because so many of those actually get wiped out when kudzu moves in and basically just destroys everything around it. English ivy is a similar nuisance. Both support a lot less wildlife than a diverse canopy available with a forest. It becomes monoculture, it will destroy hundreds of species of plants.

Greg and Eric next visit another area on the Beltline. This section is a wonderful example of the EDUCATIONAL COMPONENT of Trees Atlanta. Here they have an amazing planting of 28 Georgia native oaks. People are able to come by and actually see them all arranged in a very creative planting accompanied by beautiful sculpture. This is one of Greg's favorite places on the Beltline and it talks a little bit about what arboretums can be. Arboretums do include art but usually it's mostly just for the beauty of the art but Trees Atlanta likes for art to be educational as well as beautiful. Native oaks may be the most important tree to the state from a wildlife standpoint. So you start figuring out how to educate people about planting oak trees. The reason oak trees are so important is they feed five hundred different types of caterpillars, way more than any other tree. So, if one cares about birds, butterflies and moths then you should care about oak trees. Why birds? Birds don't eat oak leaves, but what birds eat are the caterpillars. 90% of the diet for a fledgling bird in the east coast, is caterpillars. Also, the significance for Georgia is that we have 33 different native species. Only Texas and California have more oak species than Georgia but they are two to three times larger than Georgia. So the oak is a really important tree, a really important tree for people to have in their yard and they have many choices. Trees Atlanta has 28 of the 33 oaks planted on this particular hill and the sculpture of a leaf represents each one of those. If we support wildlife we have to support its habitat. And that's the principle reason why species go extinct - their habitat disappears and they are basically forced out or eliminated.

When you are making a selection for your yard like turf grass, perennials, or shrubs, that is a short term investment but when you're picking out trees that is looking forward 50 - 100 years and you'll have a tree that actually supports more than just you and your own yard, it supports all living things. It's really a great thing to do, so think about about planting some native species that do more than provide beauty and clean the air. And, now you have one more reason to pick an oak.

Eric thanks Greg for sharing the day with us and also sharing his passion and vision. We learned a lot about planting and caring for trees as well as the many challenges that come with urban gardening. We appreciate it so much and, also, thanks so much for what Trees Atlanta has done for the city of Atlanta. It is a wonderful project. Greg thanks Eric and GardenSMART for showcasing Trees Atlanta it has been a pleasure, thanks for inviting him to be a part of GardenSMART.

LINKS:

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