Orchard brings Jesmond residents together

Volunteers at Jesmond Community Orchard

Volunteers at Jesmond Community Orchard who helped plant eight new trees on 11 December, 2011. Photo by Linda Guma

On Sunday 11 December, volunteers at Jesmond Community Orchard came together to plant eight new bare-rooted fruit trees for the benefit of the general community.

There are now 29 trees in the Orchard, which is located in a corner of St. Andrew’s cemetery in West Jesmond.

Local residents prepared planting holes for the trees in anticipation of Sunday’s event, and previously installed a system for training the trees to take advantage of last month’s warmer temperatures.

The planters helped to break up some concrete and then placed an apricot tree and some pear and apple trees as close as possible to the-south facing stone wall. They also planted an almond tree and a fig tree, to complement the Orchard’s existing raspberry and blackcurrant bushes and exotic plants.

Volunteers said they enjoyed the community experience of planting the trees whilst enjoying some healthy outdoor exercise.

Treasurer Fiona Clarke told JesmondLocal: “Across the country, the native orchards have disappeared at a remarkably fast rate because most of the traditional varieties of English apples, pears, and so on, are not very commercially useful to the supermarkets. So a lot of the orchards have been rooted up and we’re losing a lot of the traditional varieties.”

Clarke said that one of the project’s aims is to reintroduce people to some of the more interesting, tasty English fruits that used to be grown but have been superseded by continental varieties.

The team behind the Orchard also seeks to create an open space for public enjoyment and to teach people about the cultivation of fruit trees.

Gill O’Connell was among the people who started the project almost three years ago. She told JesmondLocal that the unused, overgrown corner of St Andrew’s cemetery that she and other local residents discovered in March 2009 seemed an ideal site for an orchard, and a perfect urban antidote to the vast number of houses and streets in Jesmond.

The Jesmond Community Orchard team planted their first trees on 6th December 2009. Since then, the Orchard has transformed into something far better than originally envisioned, said O’Connell, who has watched the trees double in size over the last year.

Ann Key, an active member of the committee since it began, has witnessed the transformation of the Orchard as more residents gave their time. “I was very surprised at how covered in rubble the Orchard was and even more surprised when I saw the amount of rubble that was taken away,” said Key, who also added that the project has turned out to be better than she had initially expected.

And local resident Peter Morris, a founding volunteer at the Orchard, said it has progressed from a horrible waste of space to the delightful community resource it is today.

The Orchard is wholly run by volunteers, who also raised money to cover the costs of the newly planted trees. It has a membership scheme where people pay £5 a year to help support the new trees and other projects.

Aside from tree planting, the team organizes ‘Apple Days’ and takes part in community festivals, family activities, bird box making, and art activities that are associated with fruit. Members also work with local school children.

You can see photos of the Orchard on Flickr, and listen to its volunteers talking about the project on Audioboo.

Jesmond residents can look forward to the trees blossoming in April.