“There’s something about orchards,” Seoidín O’Sullivan told a room full of people in Dublin’s Richmond Barracks last week. “They produce food and all the care that’s needed is essentially a pruning once a year.” O’Sullivan is on a mission to recruit grafters and researchers across Dublin for an edible art project called Hard Graft, which could see pocket orchards planted all over the city, grafted from the UCD orchard of historic Irish apple trees.
O'Sullivan grew up in Zambia, studied art in South Africa and got involved in the South Circular Road Community Garden when she was studying at NCAD in Dublin. "I didn't know how apple trees are reproduced. You don't plant the seeds. You have to graft. Take a branch and attach it to a root stock to be assured of the type of tree that you're going to get." The root stock costs €1 apiece and the branches are free. So grafting workshops can see people create 80 new apple trees for €80.
O’Sullivan is drawn to both the beauty of an orchard and the word graft. “It feels like hard work as citizens at the moment. What do you do? How can we create common public space?” She describes the UCD orchard as “in a way it’s a library of trees, a holding bank of our genetic heritage”. The researchers Lamb and Clarke “actually rode bicycles around the country and grafted old fruit trees”. In garden centres you’ll find four types of apple tree. In the UCD orchard there are 75 culinary and dessert apple species.
A small orchard is planned for the area around Dolphin House, where families moved into the first of the newly refurbished flats last week.
O'Sullivan was talking at an event described by organiser Siobhan Geoghegan from the community arts group Common Ground as a discussion around the "politics of trees". Common Ground was set up by Geoghegan and her colleague Ger Nolan in the 1990s.
UCD geographer Dr Gerald Mills told the gathering that large parts of the city were "a green desert" with little or no tree life. "It's a hard life being a tree in a city," he said showing a slide of one that "gets a haircut everyday" with a right angled hole maintained with every swipe of the top deck of a double decker bus. Swathes of the city were developed without a thought about trees, Mills said, the Dublin Docklands being the most empty of trees. Yet the highest value neighbourhoods and the places where most people worked were the leafiest parts of the city. The warehouse districts on the outskirts of the city were "ripe for being turned into proper green spaces," he said.
Associate professor at UCD's school of agriculture and food science Dr Mary Forrest asked if urban trees were friends or foes. She met a friendly joke from the audience about her name with the anecdote that she once had a colleague who was head of forestry called Jack Gardener.
Growing trees and vegetables in the city was not a new phenomenon, she said. A map from 1910 showed planned allotments all over the neighbourhood. We had a limited range of native trees, she said. One of the five main species grown in the city - the horse chestnut - is under severe threat from bleeding canker and an insect attacking its leaves. We could, she said, lose our stock of horse chestnuts in the next two years.
Speaking from the audience Samantha McCaffrey said she was running a campaign to save Weaver Court allotments off Cork St after receiving an eviction notice from Dublin City Council. She said people wanted the City Council to take stock of the rich social connections grown over the years in the garden especially in an area under pressure from development. Nearby Newmarket Square had been swallowed by commercial developments losing its two markets and weekly flea market. In the eight years since an amateur community of gardeners took over a derelict space it has been hemmed in by student housing blocks. "All we are saying is to look at it because it's a really positive thing. We've a window of time to fight this. I believe we have to ask the authorities to react, pause, stop look at the bigger picture. Look at what we can hold onto and preserve that's good."
Siobhan Geoghegan said the Hard Graft orchards will create three nursery sites in Inchicore and Rialto. In the coming months and they will be calling for community groups across the city to come to come to grafting workshops in February and create their own orchards which will be grown in the nurseries from whips to baby trees, a process that takes about a year. The project will be part of a UCD Department of Geography research to document the green space and tree cover between the canals. The root stock determines the height of the tree so orchards could be designed to fit the spaces people have, Geoghegan explained. "We're in a sort of Celtic dragon time in the city and we're asking people to get involved. Seoidin and I are only two people. We can't go around planting this on our own."
For more information and to get involved contact firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (01) 707 8766