Green City Garden Girl: Spring Tree Sprouts a Closer Community

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KyLynn Hull is a freelance writer who dabbles in many things including writing, urban farming and raising backyard chickens. She writes regularly for garden and food blog,Green City Garden Girl – Bound by the Seasons.

Nothing says spring like sunshine peeking out to say its heartfelt goodbyes to winter. Once the sun makes its presence, swarms of neighbors rush to their yards and tidy up a season away. It’s the first ‘real’ outing in the yard since fall. It’s a long stretch-of-the-arms salute to winter’s past. Yes, even the birds are chirping with a little more zing. When it’s time, it’s time; winter needs to take its cue.

Sun shines through the Phinney Ridge neighborhood’s spring tree. Photo By Pam Herrebout.

In one Seattle neighborhood, a community spring tree is what triggers the season’s senses, and it’s all about community. The Spring Tree has been a tradition in this close-knit Phinney Ridge neighborhood ever since Heather Casselman and Gail Gensler surveyed the ‘hood after a particularly blustery storm about six years ago. The storm blew its big horn and tossed tons of branches and limbs throughout the streets. When Heather, Gail and Heather’s daughters, Simone and Marina, walked through the neighborhood the next morning, they witnessed the aftermath and took a liking to a particularly pretty branch and decided to erect a make-believe tree. The location of this cute idea didn’t take long to figure out. The phone company had recently constructed an anchor cable with a yellow covering in front of Gail’s sidewalk strip. They decided to tie the branch to this ugly new addition to obstruct its ugliness. Once they tied it to the pole, they realized, suddenly, it needed decorating.

Photo Courtesy Heather Casselman and Gail Gensler.

Simone and Marina got started creating spring tree decorations. They decided to hang dog treats because so many folks walked their dogs on the sidewalk and, finally, they decided to add chocolates for all the other people walking by. Soon, Heather and Gail realized random neighbors or passersby were leaving their offerings at the tree. Over the years it took on a life of its own. Many of the neighbors renamed it the “giving” tree: take something, leave something. In turn, this little tree has created such inspiration and joy for the people in and around the neighborhood. It’s also a favorite among the four-legged friends who become conditioned to stopping at the tree to pick up a treat. Even after the tree is taken down, the neighborhood dogs still stop at that spot on their walks.

Offerings come and go. Some left behind have included an origami bird, a Pokeman trading card, hawk feathers, strings of beads, a tiny birdhouse, a whistle, a Pez dispenser, even a set of ear plugs Heather suspects was left by a hungry worker after taking a chocolate. 

Take one, give one! Photo By Pam Herrebout.

Nothing builds a community quite like a giving tree. Something so unexpected turned the heads of so many people and built a tradition around a simple jester. It teaches all walks of life to stop and appreciate the simplicity and joy such a tree gives: dogs, children, neighbors or random folks just driving by. It is something we all can learn from and create right in our own backyards.

As Gail first mentioned when the ugly anchor cable was put in on her sidewalk strip, “When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade!”

Happy spring!

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