TREES ALSO DIE
(1) Specimen 018, Serie Retratos (Portrait Series) © Sebastián Mejía / (2) Correct pruning of branches, scheme drawn from E. Michau in Michau, PJ Salvador Palomo and S. Uribarrena Bollain, La Poda de los Árboles Ornamentales (The Pruning of Ornamental Trees) (Madrid: Mundi-Prensa, 1996) p.185 © Camila Medina N. for LOFscapes / (3) Photograph and scan of rot caused by poor pruning practices in “Cuantificaciónde Plagas y Estabilidad Físico-Mecánica en el Arbolado Urbano de Platanus orientalisen la Comuna de Providencia” (Quantification of Plagues and Physical-Mechanical Stability in Urban Woodland of Platanus orientalis in the Community of Providencia) Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, Faculty of Agronomy and Forest Engineering, Department of Forest Sciences, 2007
Perhaps it has been the idea of the perpetuity of the garden as a rejection of death and change, which has led us to the misunderstanding and, thus, to the denial that trees, as living beings, also die. This column discusses the relevance of building, implementing and updating clear tools and protocols regarding the care of our tree-lined streets and small public-space forests, assuming that trees also die. On the one hand, this is about taking care of the trees, but on the other, it is about letting them fulfill their corresponding life cycle.
“We feel an attachment for the structures that make us wish that they are immutable. But the garden is the privileged terrain of continuous changes. The history of gardens shows that man has constantly fought against these changes. It is like trying to oppose the general entropy that governs the universe, a constructive force whose sole objective would be to dodge death, to free ourselves of it. ” (1)
(1) Gilles Clément, El Jardín en Movimiento (The Garden in Movement) España: Editorial Gustavo Gili, 2012 p.15.
In his outstanding essay El Jardín en Movimiento (The Garden in Motion), Gilles Clément builds a sensitive association between the continuous and constant interest of man to dominate the wild and the contained space of the garden. Being built with living elements, the garden tends to change and with that comes its inevitable death, but man, through his insistent control through pruning techniques, irrigation, transfers, and replacements of species, among other techniques, tends to determine a state of perpetuity. In this sense, from its most remote origin, the garden has been a human construction based on the rational understanding and management of “nature,” to develop, through its domestication, the cultivation of the spirit through its aesthetic enjoyment.
Topiaries, for example, those trees and hedges trimmed with conical, rectangular and spherical geometric shapes, are a simple but obvious gesture of imprinting dominance and immortality on the landscape, with living elements that become perfectly defined, sculptures insensitive to environmental conditions. The practice of geometric pruning, used at its best in the conception of the French garden of the eighteenth century, was changed by the subtle cleansing of the natural forms of trees in the English garden, where a kind of freedom, controlled and reactive to the elegance of the monarchy, guided the construction of the picturesque scene. Here, mastery and perpetuity are established from the construction of scenes – pictorial in nature − frozen in time, whose seasonal variations do not break the tranquility of the pastoral landscape.
Perhaps the idea of the perpetuity of the garden is as a rejection of death and change, which has led us to the misunderstanding and, thus, to the denial that trees, as living beings, also die. I say this mainly because we have left them, and even urged them to die without this being our goal.
In cities, we have planted trees as if they were inanimate objects without specific needs for their healthy growth and development because we believe they have always been there. This has caused us to constantly encounter woody individuals mutilated by bad pruning practices and with serious rot problems, growing in waterproof and tread upon soils, to which we have not only damaged their crowns but also cut their roots to install sewers and sidewalks and erect new buildings. We have removed and scratched upon their bark and painted their wounds thinking that they will heal. All these ‘innocent’ practices make our avenues, our squares and our forested parks look impoverished. We blame our climate for the resulting ugliness: as if that were a property of trees in our city. However, we continue with unregulated tree maintenance practices that depend on the budget of each municipality.
In contrast, in the most remote forests, where clustered trees function as part of a diverse system of species and strata, life seems not to end. This is mainly due to the natural fact that, just as some trees die, others are born. Obviously, this condition does not exist in the urban environment, where the lack of undergrowth and established communities of animals, along with the constant anthropic use of the soil, do not allow natural renewal processes to develop. In this sense, it is essential to actively care for these species that we have removed from their normal development conditions.
It is relevant then to build, implement and update clear tools and protocols regarding the care of our tree-lined streets and small public space forests, assuming that trees also die. On the one hand, this is about taking care of the trees, but on the other, it is about letting them fulfill their corresponding life cycle. In other words, we cannot let them die due to bad design and maintenance practices, but neither can we idealize them as perpetual entities, thus understanding the “collapse dynamics” as an opportunity for the renewal of trees in our cities, as the owners of the forests of Moutiers explained … “the effect of the wind eliminated the trees that we dared not cut. It also removed other trees. But it allowed us to make new gardens”(2).