On Bloor Street's Mink Mile this week, landscaping crews began chopping down more than 20 dead street trees, leaving a series of waist-high stumps poking out of the high-concept black marble planters and wrought-iron grates on the widened sidewalks.
With hundreds of red, yellow and purple flowers now in full bloom along Bloor, this latest horticultural repair job is yet another embarrassment in a long-delayed project that dragged on over four years and cost the local business improvement area more than $24-million.
Merchants who support the costly beautification project are disappointed. "It's unfortunate they've had some problems," said Larry Rosen, chairman and CEO of Harry Rosen, adding that it's "critical" for the city's premiere shopping district to look its best. "Let's get it fixed up as quickly as possible."
Don Knight, general manager of Frank Stollery Ltd., observed that his staff complained to the Bloor Yorkville BIA as far back as last year about a dead tree that had been left standing in front of Holt Renfrew, sometimes with stray plastic bags caught in its branches. "No one came to clean it out," he said. "That [says]the street doesn't give a damn."
That tree has not yet been cut down.
The dead London plane trees, mostly located on the block between Yonge and Church, died because they were planted at the wrong time of year, against the advice of city arborists, following numerous construction delays and a strike. The Globe and Mail counted several more dying or dead street trees still standing west of Yonge, a few as far west as Avenue Road.
The deciduous species can grow up to 40 metres, has a smooth, grey-green bark, and is not indigenous to southern Ontario.
"When a professional landscaper tells us the appropriate season is not upon us, perhaps the learning is that we follow their advice," said Kristyn Wong-Tam, the local councillor.
The trees, installed in 2009 and still under warranty, died because they were planted in the fall rather than the spring, said Briar de Lang, executive director of the Bloor-Yorkville BIA. "Essentially, they were put in the ground too soon and now they're being replaced."
The maintenance of all the new landscaping is the responsibility of the BIA, and Ms. de Lang stressed that no public funds have been spent on this latest repair.
Ms. Wong-Tam added she's confident the organization, which has 1,700 members, is moving quickly to deal with the problem. "The BIA has every interest in making sure the street looks great," she said.
The BIA and its architects worked hard to create an elaborate network of soil trenches specifically designed to sustain trees and a rotating assortment of annuals.
Many freshly planted street trees in Toronto succumb because they are inserted in tiny apertures in the sidewalk under heavy slabs of poured concrete. The trees die because the soil beneath the concrete becomes too packed to allow nutrients and water to circulate through the root network.
On Bloor, however, the trees were planted in "silva-cells" constructed beneath the sidewalk and engineered to resist compaction as well as the freeze-thaw cycle. During the reconstruction of Roncesvalles Avenue, the city relied on a variation on the theme, using pre-cast concrete pavers that sit on supports instead of resting directly on the soil.
Both Bloor and Roncesvalles were pilot projects, said urban forestry planner Peter Simon, noting that such specially designed structures are costly to install, unless the street is already being dug up for other reasons, such as the burial of hydro or gas lines.
The goal, said Mr. Simon, who will deliver a lecture next week on boulevard trees, is to provide roots with 30 cubic metres of soil. The current average is about half that, while the old so-called "tree coffins" – the old concrete planters that can be seen in areas like the Annex – have little more than three cubic metres.