Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Voice of the Tree
On St-Viateur East, in the shadow of an old factory building, a tree has a small sign around its slender trunk. It is part announcement, part polite plea heralding the tree's point of view. "The tree says: 'There is now, at the corner of St-Viateur East and St-Dominique Streets, a slew of bike racks for you to lock your bicycle. Why not take a few seconds and use them? I thank you!'"
In the square of earth around the tree, there is a tiny flower garden full of carefully kept marigolds, geraniums, nasturtiums, tall grasses and daisies. Along the block between Casgrain and St-Dominique there are three more trees with signs and neatly tended squares of garden around them.
On a recent Monday morning, Diane Boyer was kneeling on the sidewalk, deadheading the flowers and tending to the plants. She wore gardening gloves and knee protectors and had a bucket of gardening tools she moved with her from square to square.
A man wandered over to say good morning to her. "I'm not awake yet," he said, looking like he wanted a cup of coffee. "Gilles is a woodworker," Diane explained. "He donated the bamboo and made the fences." She pointed to the tiny fence posts protecting the flowers.
"We just had some good news," she continued. "There's an Eco-Quartier contest about embellishing your neighbourhood," she said, using the French word for beautify. "And we won! Helen Fotopulos, the mayor of the borough, is going to come give us a plaque."
Diane has lived in the building, which was once a piano factory and then a shirt factory, for 11 years. She shares her fourth-floor loft with her cat Picolo who has extra toes on each paw and stalks around with big-footed entitlement. Diane has plucked many sewing pins, relics from the shirt manufacturer, out from between the hardwood floor planks. Her sunny space features a purple painted leather couch and bright blue, green and red walls adorned with wooden sculptures.
"I paint, draw, sculpt and grow plants," said Diane, whose day job is coordinating dubbing at a sound studio. "I used to have a community garden but I gave up my plot and I thought this space in front would be my garden. My neighbours pitched in and lent me hoses. I hook up to a water outlet at the loading dock on Casgrain and when I connect two hoses together they reach all the way to St-Dominique."
Since she started the gardens in late June, people have been receptive to the trees' message about using bike racks instead of locking up to the tree trunks. As a result, the trees are doing better. Diane indicated a spot where the tree bark had previously been worn away and showed how a fresh sprig was now poking out of the same trunk.
"The only thing we can't control is the cats and dogs who wander at night. The cats use the gardens as a litter box. But there's very little damage."
As Diane adjusted one of the laminated signs on a tree, two women walked out of the building. "You're the one who did these gardens?" they asked. "They're great!"
Diane smiled and plucked a dry leaf off a daisy.