Part 1 - Planting The Trees
We’re fortunate enough to live next to Broombriggs Farm, a country park which is part of the National Forest. We walk Olive here every day, and from my desk in our garden studio, I watch the seasons change over these fields so it holds a special place in our hearts. So much so, we had some of our wedding portraits taken here (image above).
I was really excited to learn that a portion of the site was going to become a community orchard for our village, and volunteers were being sought to help bring it to life. The timing couldn’t have been better, I’d just watched an episode of River Cottage to the Core, where Hugh F-W was championing British fruit, encouraging growers and sharing recipes. I’ve always yearned to be involved in the kind of community-fueled grow-and-celebrate that is the hallmark of the River Cottage concept, and with the prospect of this new communal orchard project right on our doorstep, I didn’t hesitate to get involved.
After an initial planning meeting last week with the other volunteers, we met on a damp, overcast Saturday morning at the soggy field where I’ve walked Olive so many times. It had been prepared for planting by the council and some volunteers earlier in the week, marking out the various zones where the different species would be planted, and mowing the pathways between. We were to plant 60 trees in total, which, along with the picnic benches (to be added to the central glade later) were all funded by the National Forest.
Chris from Leicestershire County Council talked through the zones where the apple, pear, plum, cherry and damson trees would be located, and showed us an example planting which demonstrated the correct depth and location of supporting stake. I’ve never planted a tree in my life, neither had about half of the other volunteers, but we had some very experienced horticulturalists in the group too which was great as they were happy to share their knowledge without intimidating the lesser-able of us!
Our first job was to take the trees to their allocated spot on the map where the council’s digger had loosened the earth, then we got digging...
Once the tree was in place, a stake had to be hammered into the ground at an angle close to the stem to protect the saplings. They were then secured to the stake with a rubber tie.
All of the volunteers got stuck in and even though some hadn’t met before, were soon working togther to get the job done. One of the main aims of the project is to bring people together in a shared pursuit and this has been achieved already on day one.
It was so inspiring to see the difference we could make in just one day to a fairly big site that hadn’t been achieving its full potential. Apparently, the field had been used as allotments by the villagers many years ago, so it’s really satisfying to bring it back into shared use once more.
I can’t wait to look back on these images in the months and years to come and remember that rainy Saturday in January when it all began. This muddy, unassuming patch of countryside will not only become a beautiful place to wander and relax, but we will also benefit from the fruit it will provide. There are several ideas to expand the project to include a forraging trail of berries and nuts and a carpet of wildflowers beneath the trees.
The idea is that once the trees have matured and are bearing fruit, not only will the orchard be accessible for everyone to enjoy, but also gatherings and community events can take place here, celebrating annual festivals such as Apple Day.
I’m so proud to be a part of the community orchard and I hope it inspires others to get involved in similar projects elsewhere. Over the coming months I’ll update with progress reports on the orchard, and plans for upcoming events and developments. In the meantime I'd love to hear about similar projects elsewhere, in particular ones which are now well established!