Lining the side of the entrance ramp to Exit 11 in Darien, there’s a planting of holly trees, pine trees, and magnolia trees.
The town has a small nonprofit organization called the Tree Conservancy of Darien to thank for those plantings, and many others.
The Tree Conservancy of Darien is dedicated to preserving and enhancing the tree resources of Darien for the benefit of the community, its health and its quality of life.
The 11-year-old organization has installed more than 600 trees in town.
“We work with the town, the public works department, and parks and recreation,” said Sabina Harris of Darien, the chairperson of the tree conservancy.
Members meet monthly each other’s homes, the Darien Nature Center and the Darien Library.
“We try to plant native trees and shrubs, such as elms, dogwoods, red buds,” said Harris, who works as a paraeducator at Fitch Academy in Darien.
The trees are sourced locally. A local gardener’s center donates trees and a wholesaler gives the conservancy discounts on trees.
Trees are replaced if they die due to storms, age, and disease.
To replace trees at any of the beaches or parks in town, the commission needs approval from the parks and recreation department. The group gets onto the agenda of the Parks and Recreation Commission meeting and presents a planting plan.
“It takes a few months to be approved,” Harris said.
If the conservancy wants to plant in an area along a street in town, members work with the town’s public works department. They have meetings on the proposed site.
“We plant only on town land,” Harris said.
Members of the conservancy assess why trees did not survive in a particular area.
“Maybe it was the wrong species for that area,” Harris said. “Perhaps the area is too shady, or if it’s too much in the open, it doesn’t do well with a lot of road traffic going by it.”
Harris said she has many stories about tree plantings over the years that hold a strong place in her heart.
“I was really touched by being asked by the organization that takes care of the Veterans Cemetery to have some trees replaced,” she said. “We planted honey locust trees, birch trees, and dogwood trees there.”
The conservancy also organized a planting in Tilley Pond Park. “That little park is beautiful. It used to be a family estate and there are some really neat trees there,” Harris said. “Over the years, the trees that were taken down by storms. We were given a big donation of trees by a wholesaler and we thought this would be great for Tilley Park.”
They planted dogwoods, birch, and other kinds of trees in that location.
Other plantings were at the Darien Police Station, and Darien Community Association.
The Tree Conservancy raises $15,000 to $20,000 a year by sending out letters to the community as well as through word of mouth. The money raised goes toward buying trees and paying landscape companies to plant them.
With the money that’s raised, “we care for the trees for at least two years to help their survival,” Harris said. Caring for the trees involves watering, fertilizing and pruning them.
According to Harris, the conservancy got started after the revitalization of the downtown Darien area. “Some of the people who were involved in the revitalization campaign formed the tree conservancy,” Harris said.
She said that people in the community noticed that trees were dying in town or being taken down. “It seemed like trees were being removed but not being replaced,” Harris said. “By forming the group, we wanted to be a voice for why was this happening and could we make a difference.”
In the beginning, “it was grassroots, and members get out there with shovels and dug the holes and planted the trees themselves,” Harris said. More recently, they have hired landscapers to do the plantings.
Growing up on a very rural farm in southeastern Massachusetts, “there were trees everywhere. I understood the importance of trees,” Harris said.
Harris, who said she “loves the outdoors,” said trees are very beneficial to society in many ways.
“Trees give us oxygen, shade our homes in the summer, help in soil retention, and help reduce our electricity cost,” she said.
Harris encourages everyone to “get outdoors and enjoy nature, every season.”
For more information on the Tree Conservancy of Darien, visit treeconservancyofdarien.org/ or visit Tree Conservancy of Darien on Facebook.