‘Give me the splendid silent sun, with all his beams full-
dazzling;

Give me juicy autumnal fruit, ripe and red from the
orchard..’

Walt Whitman

 

In 2011, almost nine years ago now, pupils from Percy Main primary school did a wonderful thing- they planted the apple, pear and plum trees that are now heavily laden with rosy, ripe fruit and named it, ‘The Whispering Trees Orchard’. And what a beautifully poetic way to describe what can be heard in that place.

For the past two Thursdays however, the orchard has not been whispering, it’s been chattering rather loudly: filled with the laughter of children, the bark of a few dogs (Alfie and Gus) and the bite and crunch of a quite a few apples as we hosted some Fruit Picking Days.

For both Andy and me it was our first event in the garden- and probably the first ever event in the orchard for a long time. Over the past year, the grass in the orchard area had grown long and smothered the ground around the trees. So in preparation for the day, and with the help of some of our garden volunteers - Catherine, Tom and Gerry, we strimmed and cut paths through the long grass, making it a little easier and safer to walk round the orchard and pick the fruit.

When the time arrived, it filled us with joy to see people from the community choosing to spend time at The Meadows. Local people came who hadn’t been for six years or more- and some didn’t even know the garden existed (tucked away as it is behind the centre). Even the sun made an appearance, encouraging a couple of families to bring a picnic. These families stayed a while- sitting on benches in the orchard, the kids chasing Alfie and Gus who weaved their way through the grass and back onto the paths again. At the day's end, some people had little evidence of the fruit they'd picked (it was that tempting!) whereas others went home which several pounds worth and made batches of plum jam, an apple crumble or a pie.

Orchards are an important part of community life. They are a place where people can gather, grow and share: enjoying the shade and shelter of the trees and the fruits they have gathered. Orchards are also important for our wildlife community too. The fruit blossom in spring is a valuable source of nectar for bees, in summer the dappled canopy provides shade for shade-loving butterflies and in autumn the fallen fruit attracts and supports beetles, wasps and mammals. The UK used to have lots of small orchards like ours dotted around the country, but since the late 1950s, we have lost 90% of traditional orchards due to land being sold for housing development, a change to more intensive farming methods and the rise in imported fruit from overseas.  

Over the next few years we hope that there will be an increase in the number of community orchards across the country. We also hope that our orchard will continue to provide a place where local people and wildlife can gather together and flourish.