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Neighborhood Arboretum Project

In 1987, a localized downburst destroyed 100 mature oaks and maples in Seneca Gardens. A year later I was asked by former mayor, Jim MacDonald, to replace the fallen hardwoods.

Since that time, Seneca Gardens has subsidized the planting of about 1000 trees. The mission was to plant trees that will live for 100 years and give our neighborhood a sense of stability. The program expanded to include decorative trees like dogwoods and redbuds, but the primary effort remains the replacement of grand overstory trees.

The storm that destroyed so many trees in 1987 was a disaster, but what followed may be the most unique tree planting program in the United States.  Rather than replace the fallen pin oaks with other pin oaks, we planted multiple varieties of oaks, many of them natives which thrive in our climate and calcareous soils.  Instead of replanting the destroyed red maples with limited choices, we found dozens of maple varieties.

We planted ginkgos, elms, sassafras, beeches, cypress, dawn redwoods, black gums, Turkish hazelnuts, sycamores, katsuras, magnolias and yellowwoods in addition to oaks and maples. Each one of those species has multiple forms such as weeping, fastigiate, or variegated. Over time, our tree planting program created a neighborhood arboretum in the front yards of Seneca Gardens which can be viewed from our sidewalks and streets.

Since the storm of 1987 we have continued to lose our grand old trees, but less dramatically, one at a time, to old age, pollution, restricted roots, and construction. We lose five to ten large trees a year. That gradual loss adds up.  We have lost more trees to attrition since 1987 than we lost in that storm.

That slow loss will continue. In my lifetime, I expect we will lose almost every large tree in Seneca Gardens, even without devastating storms.

This is why Seneca Gardens continues to subsidize tree planting long after the 1987 storm.  There is a saying in the tree business which states that the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.  The second best time is now.  We started planting almost 20 years ago and we are still planting now.

Seneca Gardens Tree Policies

The Seneca Gardens residents value their trees. To support this value, the City of Seneca Gardens subsidizes tree planting and removal of hazardous trees in public easements.

Seneca Gardens will pay up to half the cost of planting a tree in residents’ front yards with a limit of $150 per house per year. The choice and site of the tree must be approved by the city arborist before installation. There are three reasons for this requirement of pre-approval. 1) Seneca Gardens will not subsidize problematic or invasive trees. 2) The Seneca Gardens arborist can offer information and advice to make the tree successful over the long term. 3) The budget is limited so subsidy for new trees must fit into that year’s budget.

Seneca Gardens will participate in the cost of removing hazardous trees in the public easements. Seneca Gardens will pay 30% if the tree is in the public easement, defined as 20 feet from the edge of the street pavement. If the tree trunk is outside the easement, in private property, but the immediately against the easement line so that half of the tree hangs over the public easement, Seneca Gardens will pay half subsidy, i.e. 15%. Seneca Garden’s limit on this process is $500.

Seneca Gardens cannot force a homeowner to remove a hazard tree which threatens public safety; however, Metro Louisville can. In that case, Metro Louisville will require that the homeowner pay the entire cost. Also, if the home/tree owner is aware of a tree’s hazardous condition and does nothing to resolve the hazardous condition prior to tree causing property damage to others, homeowner will be held legal liable. Homeowner cannot use “Act of God” defense.

Each year Seneca Gardens reviews the tree subsidy policy. The subsidy is subject to change depending on the requirement to balance the city budget.

Michael Hayman

Seneca Gardens Arborist

Questions? Comments? Email Michael at [email protected]