Orchards for everyone
A wire-trained apple tree. Photograh: RICHARD JOHNSTON
A formal allee of trained apple trees in full bloom in the west Cork garden of gardener Joy Larkcom.
All across Ireland neighbourhoods are coming together to grow community orchards, writes FIONNUALA FALLON
Tomorrow marks the beginning of National Tree Week (see treecouncil.ie), with the theme of this year’s celebrations, “A Feast of Trees”, highlighting the importance of these giant plants’ role as a vital food source not only for humans but also a myriad of other living creatures. As a place that offers nourishment for the soul and the body, an organically managed, traditional orchard is one of the finest examples of trees at their productive best.
These fruitful places also bring plenty of other benefits-in-kind, providing a haven for small animals, birds, insects, a tranquil refuge for us two-legged mammals and a place of safety for the trees themselves by preserving heritage varieties for the future. While most gardeners would jump at the chance to create such a traditional orchard, the stumbling block has always been having the space to plant on such a large scale.
And yet, all this time, given a small leap of imagination and shift in attitude, the solution has been lying right under our noses, or more accurately, in our immediate neighbourhood – it’s called a community orchard.
All across Ireland communities are beginning to get together to plant such orchards, using land wherever they can find it – along the edges of disused railway lines, the sides of GAA pitches, in school gardens, parks, church grounds, hospital grounds and village squares as well as in more conventional community gardens themselves. Always seek the permission of the relevant landowner before planting.
One example is Ramelton in Co Donegal, where this week 500 fruit and nut trees will be planted in various public locations in the town by its Tidy Towns committee. Limerick Riverpath Volunteers are also in the middle of finalising plans to develop a “secret orchard” along the city’s Park Canal to be enjoyed by locals as well as passersby.
Similar community orchards are planned for Ballymun, Clondalkin, Waterville in Co Kerry, Rathcabbin in Co Tipperary and Lanesborough in Co Longford as well as a host of other locations, with some of these receiving funding from supportive bodies such as the Tree Council of Ireland.
Santry Community Orchard
Santry Community Orchard is situated in the grounds of a once-derelict, 4½ acre, historic walled garden in the heart of Santry village. Owned by Fingal County Council, since 2010 it’s been gardened by a core group, of about 80, of determined, enthusiastic and impressively hard-working local volunteers, who together are in the process of returning it to being a fully productive space.
A walled garden of three parts, in its Victorian heyday, it was famed for its fruit production with historical records showing that its giant orchard (the middle of the three inner walled gardens) once contained close to 400 trees including 174 different cultivars of apple, pear, plum, cherry, nectarine, quince, peach as well as nuts.