Mulch Ado About Nothing

I noticed something on Market Square the other day. I don't know exactly how long it's been gone, but it seems we've lost a tree there—one of the pair closest to the stage. I remember it well from watching KPD drag a guy out of it during George Thorogood's Sundown in the City show last year. I wonder if that's what did it in.

Living downtown means giving up some things. Lawns, for the most part, aren't part of the picture. I know a lot of people for whom tending their lawn is an endless source of enjoyment. I never was one of those people. When I had a one, I recall mowing its more distant corners and realizing that was the only time I was ever there—to mow it. I had a flower bed, too. But it was never much more than a mulch pit. Giving up a lawn for me was like Brer Rabbit being thrown into the briar patch.

But I enjoy the space around where I live now. The streets, parks, and sidewalks are now my yard. There are various patios and cafe tables to be enjoyed. And I'm fond of strolling downtown's walkways and admiring our little patches of landscaping.

Trees downtown are relatively sparse in comparison to most of Knoxville, so it's noticeable when we lose one like that. I remember the debate that raged over whether to keep the larger ones that remain on the south end of the Square. Some folks thought they messed up the symmetry of the new design. I don't know. But the loss of the one planted in the precise row of new trees certainly does. That patch of mulch just doesn't have the same feel. And I'm betting its not as much fun watching someone being drug out of a pile of mulch.

Around the corner on Wall Avenue by the garage, a couple of other trees went missing recently, too. I've heard they're going to be replaced. But I haven't heard when. There are some fine berms of mulch there for the time being.

A while back, I attended a public input session for the proposed sidewalk improvements on the 100 Block of Gay Street and a lot of folks were very pleased to see trees lining the block as part of that plan. I may have been the only one who was a little wary. It's not that I don't like trees. I do. It's just that when you take a look around downtown, you find that we don't always take the best care of the ones we have. Some go away and never return.

When tree-lined streets lose one, it's like a missing tooth. And that's what worried me about the plantings on the 100 Block (that, and our flocks of starlings that can make a car look like a Jackson Pollock painting in under an hour). How long before it loses a tooth? Will it get replaced?

For years I've watched city crews diligently tend to patches of mulch that formerly held trees. Beside the East Tennessee Tribute To Country Music Park (the one with the treble clef statue at Summit Hill Drive and Gay) there are three holes that each cover over half the width of the sidewalk. Each one once was home to a tree. They get freshly mulched when crews seasonally replant the flowers in the park. No flowers go in the holes, no new trees, just mulch. It washes out onto the sidewalk after a while.

With the Dogwood Arts Festival just around the corner, you can bet that a lot of neighborhoods around town are sprucing up for visitors. We have some really beautiful spaces downtown that are well tended. Krutch Park, the aforementioned treble clef location (save the treble clef statue itself, which is falling apart), and the World's Fair Park come to mind. All of these see regular plantings and maintenance.

But parts of downtown remind me of my old yard. On Market Street at the history center are four matching planters built into the sidewalk with three matching trees. The last one's just got mulch. On Clinch, across from the YWCA there are three empty planters sitting on the sidewalk. I don't recall ever seeing anything in them except for an odd bit of trash every now and then, and mulch. There are others here and there.

Our streets downtown may not be a Dogwood Trail. But we'll certainly be hosting a lot of visitors to festival events. Maybe with a little sprucing up we could be a showcase neighborhood, too. But we ought to look into replacing some of that mulch. It never did much for my old place. I finally gave up and moved downtown.