Camden, this green country town with streets and parks shaded by towering hardwoods, does not look this way by accident. Or more accurately, an accident of nature almost half a century ago – the unstoppable Dutch elm disease – stirred the townspeople into action, and over the years they have undone the damage. In the late 1970s, the Camden Shade Tree program was launched as a cooperative effort of the Camden Garden Club, the Town of Camden, and a long list of homeowners. Many of the early seven-feet Shade Tree saplings are magnificent now – see the rows beside the former Apollo tannery and in front of Whitehall Inn – testimony to the optimism and nobility of tree planting.
The Camden Garden Club, founded in 1915, began as early as 1929 to fight the elm beetle, for decades trying everything science and close attention could accomplish. But the record is sad. In October of 1973, between 30 and 40 elms were taken down after frost, and the following April another 50 were cut down. That spring seven rock maples were planted: hope, in the face of so much loss.
Always a community effort, each year the town has accepted bids for planting up to twenty new trees and the homeowners have promised to see to adequate watering and weeding. The trees must be within clear sight of the street, and the cost has been divided into three parts: town, garden club, and owner.
In 2012 Camden’s Shade Tree Program got a major boost – which has been renewed in the two years since — when the Maine Department of Agriculture’s Tree Canopy program awarded Camden $8,000, enabling the purchase of larger trees.
For each of those years, Bart Wood, the Camden Tree Warden, has traveled around with Dale Bruce and then Priscilla Granston, representatives of the Camden Garden Club, to determine where trees were needed in public places. The 2013 grant money was specific to the downtown business area.
This year good-size trees were planted in four locations, mostly replacing diseased or storm-damaged trees that had been removed. The Camden Public Library received a Princeton elm and a kousa dogwood. A river birch clump went in at the corner of High and Mountain Streets; three Donald Wyman crabapples are at Chestnut and Frye Streets; and a red oak is farther down on the Chestnut side of Seaview Cemetery.
Camden began to be recognized as a Tree City USA in 1995 by the Arbor Day Foundation, administered in Maine by the Department of Conservation. It’s an annual recognition of Camden’s tree ordinance, its tree warden, and its per capita budget for a tree program, clear confirmation of the town’s long love affair with trees.
The Camden Garden Club is a member of the Garden Club Federation of Maine and National Garden Clubs, Inc. and has as its mission bringing horticulture education to the community, enhancing public spaces, and protecting and conserving natural resources. For more information, please see the web site: www.camdengardenclub.com. New members are always welcome.