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Trees Really Do Grow in Brooklyn – Thanks to the Cobble Hill Tree Fund

Upcoming plant sale benefits longstanding local organization

It’s quite possible that the beloved streets of Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens and the surrounding neighborhoods – currently festooned with pink and white Cherry and Magnolia blossoms – would not be as cheerful in spring, nor provide such welcome shade in the summer, were it not for the vision of one determined resident many years ago.

In the 1960s, George Polimeros of Clinton Street began a dogged door-to-door neighborhood greening campaign, beseeching neighbors rather than asking.

“Wouldn’t you like a tree planted out front?” he'd ask.

Mr. Polimeros planted and pruned the trees himself. After his death, his supporters created the Cobble Hill Tree Fund under the auspices of the Cobble Hill Association.

Today, the Cobble Hill Tree Fund is made up of about fifteen volunteer members, led by Co-chairs Georgia Willett and Tom Synnott, and Dick Van Bolt, Treasurer, who plan, organize and carry out annual spring and fall tree plantings around Cobble Hill and contiguous neighborhoods. Between six and ten new trees are planted each year. Over 200 trees have been planted by the Fund since 1981. The group primarily raises funds through individual donations to the Cobble Hill Association (earmarked for the Fund) and their popular annual plant sale, which is coming up this Saturday, April 30.

Willett, a lifelong resident of Cobble Hill, remembers her parents’ recounting of the day Mr. Polimeros knocked on their front door some forty years ago, requesting to plant a tree on the sidewalk outside their house.

“It grew from a little stick,” says Willett, smiling.

That tiny seedling became a regal tree now standing a proud thirty feet tall, higher than the building Willett was raised in.

The mission of the Cobble Hill Tree Fund is “to plant as many trees as we can within our capability,” says Willett on a recent tour of the neighborhood’s new and past plantings.

Walking around the neighborhood, the work of the group is evident and impressive. A young Silver Linden has just been planted in front of Blue Marble on Court Street, thanks to joint funding from , (nextdoor), and the Fund. The group collaborates with storeowners and residents to nurture new trees during the early and more vulnerable stage of life, when diligent watering is key to survival.

On the corner of Court and Kane streets, a towering Callery Pear stands tall; its broad canopy of delicate white blossoms fall softly around it. Several feet away stands an empty tree pit where a similar Callery Pear once stood – it was fatally hit by a truck.

“Trucks are a huge hazard,” explains Willett.

She estimates that the neighborhood loses between five and seven trees a year to vehicle accidents and imprudent delivery truck drivers. Disease and old age are other common (though less preventable) causes of tree losses.

Next to run-ins with cars and trucks, lack of watering is the “biggest” threat to young trees, explains Willett.

“Educating people is part of our mission,” she says.

Other striking Cobble Hill Tree Fund plantings include a magnificent Japanese Pagoda tree in , at the corner of Clinton and Congress streets, a Silver Linden on Congress and Henry streets and a newly-planted Columnar Oak on Congress Street by the Chapel entrance at the .

A couple more plantings are on the horizon this spring: a Silver Linden or Callery Pear on Tompkins Place, and both a Red Oak and a Callery Pear on Warren Street.

For the Fund, trees bestow many benefits upon city dwellers.

“Beauty in each of the seasons, homes for birds and small animals and a source of oxygen – a rare commodity in a city as large as New York City," reads a pamphlet for the group.

One example of the beauty and character trees provide for residents is a giant leaning Mulberry (“rare for this neighborhood”) on Kane Street.

Purchases of street trees through the Fund are tax-deductible; the total cost of an average street tree planting is $800 (includes delivery, potential tree pit expansion and planting).

Locals can support the Fund by patronizing their annual plant sale in Cobble Hill Park, this Saturday, April 30 from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. This year, the plant sale will feature lots of hanging baskets, a variety of annuals, an increased number of herb and tomato starts, as well as an increased variety of perennials.

There will also be a plant/tree identification activity for kids, and a bake sale run by the PTA. If your home is in need of a little spring greening, or you’d like to learn more about the Cobble Hill Tree Fund, make sure to stop by this coming Saturday. Volunteers are also needed.

George Polimeros’ legacy surely is a beautiful one. Without it, our beloved corner of Brooklyn would probably look a lot less inviting. One need only visit the CHTF’s website to witness a striking before-and-after video of Warren Street (1970 and present) to appreciate the decades of dedicated greening work he inspired.

If you’re looking for a local cause to support, the Cobble Hill Tree Fund is undoubtedly a worthy one.

Pat Kral April 27, 2011 at 11:21 AM
Glad to read this important article we take these tree treasures for granted I will notice and appreciate more now could you post shots of the trees as they leaf out? Loved this story!
Molly Culver April 28, 2011 at 02:35 AM
Thanks, Pat -- I will do my best!

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