Kevin Osmond shows the damage done to a 200-year-old beech tree in the Public Gardens.

After Public Gardens attack, the effort is on to save “irreplaceable” trees

Whoever “girdled” the trees was deliberately trying to kill them, leaving people in tears and enraged as city staff work on life-saving grafts.

Under the cover of night—either late Monday or early Tuesday—somebody (or it might have been a group of people) broke into the Halifax Public Gardens and took an axe (or a machete or hachet) to dozens of the trees in the park, some of which are over 100 years old. The gardens were closed Tuesday, July 26 so city staff could assess the damage and begin a rescue mission for the beloved trees. The greenspace reopened on Wednesday, and staff are still scratching their heads—no one knows who attacked the trees, or why someone would deliberately want to kill them, as the pattern of the cuts suggests. And the question of the trees’ survival is still in the air.

Vandalism like this has never happened before in the gardens, says Sean Street, the municipality’s horticultural supervisor for Halifax west. “It was devastating. It feels like having your home broken into.” Street declined questions about changing security measures in the park, but said it’s being evaluated. He and senior supervisor for urban forestry Kevin Osmond were at the Public Gardens on Wednesday to give an update on the situation. They stood in front of one of the axed trees, a huge beech that’s believed to be 200 years old.

click to enlarge After Public Gardens attack, the effort is on to save “irreplaceable” trees
Halifax Regional Municipality
A “girdled” tree in the Public Gardens.

A total of 29 trees received varying degrees of damage, mostly located around the pond, Street says. And on most of the vandalized trees, the cuts are very deep and go all the way around the base of the trunk. “There's no question whether or not something like that would be intentional, because someone would have to know what that does to a tree to want to make sure they got all the way around,” he says.

It was an act called girdling, which involves removing the bark in a ring around the base of the trunk. “They intentionally came out to damage this tree to try to kill the tree. Girdling a tree usually kills it,” Osmond says. He explains that the act cuts off the tree’s flow of nutrients by creating a gap in the bark. “Nothing's getting up to the leaves, nothing from the leaves is getting down into the root system.”

click to enlarge After Public Gardens attack, the effort is on to save “irreplaceable” trees
The Coast
The damage on the 200-year-old beech tree, and the stapled “puzzle pieces” up close.

On Tuesday, staff picked up “puzzle pieces” of bark and stapled them back into place, and then wrapped the trees in plastic and burlap. Next they’re going to try a process called bridge grafting, wherein branches from the top of the tree are attached around the damaged part of the trunk, essentially creating a “bridge” for nutrients to cross.

click to enlarge After Public Gardens attack, the effort is on to save “irreplaceable” trees
The Coast
A damaged tree wrapped up in plastic and burlap.

“We’re going to try and save as many as we can,” Osmond says, but three or four trees have already been removed from the park. He says many of the damaged trees are “irreplaceable.” Historic trees, big trees, and rare trees were “hit hard,” and among the casualties are the 200-year-old beech and the gardens’ famous ginko tree. Osmond believes the ginkgo tree and the beech tree have a good chance of survival. He says trees “behave in amazing ways” and “surprise us every single day.” We’ll know in one or two years if the beech tree is dying, he says.

Osmond estimates the value of the damaged trees is hundreds of thousands of dollars. “The monetary value is high,” he says, “but the value to the park and to the locals and to the history of HRM is exorbitant.”

That value was evident at the Public Gardens on Wednesday. Kids have put up “get well soon” cards for the trees at the entrance. One of these cards gives a demand: “whoever hurt the tree must plant a new part for it before the end of the week,” Charlotte Cooper writes. We’ll have to wait and see what Charlotte does if the vandal doesn’t meet her deadline.

click to enlarge After Public Gardens attack, the effort is on to save “irreplaceable” trees
The Coast
Charlotte Cooper has some strong words for the vandal.

And a small group gathered at the beech tree while Osmond pulled back the burlap to reveal the damage. Local resident Ashley Levy was in tears. “I never expected to cry over a tree, but here I am,” she says. The beech is her favourite tree in the park—during the “text a tree” project in 2019, it was the one she contacted. She visits her friend often. “I just feel very betrayed and devastated. Like why would someone do this to a tree? They’re just trees,” Levy says.

“The tranquility and the peace that you find smack in the middle of Halifax is really hard to replicate, and to destroy it is unfathomable.”

click to enlarge After Public Gardens attack, the effort is on to save “irreplaceable” trees
The Coast
Local kids have put up “get well soon” cards for the trees.

About The Author

Kaija Jussinoja

Kaija Jussinoja is a news reporter at The Coast, where she covers the stories that make Halifax the weird and wonderful place we call home. She is originally from North Vancouver, BC and graduated from the University of King’s College in 2022. Jussinoja joined The Coast in May 2022 after interning at The Chronicle...

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