Lost Treasures

They used to be the pride and joy of many a farmer. Family gardens were plain without them and innumerable children have enjoyed their benefits: Orchards! And while J.K. Rowlings’ Weasley family still owns one, their numbers are dwindling even in the classic gardening nation, the United Kingdom, despite their enormous importance for regional and national biodiversity. In 2004 Natural England  set up a program¹ to research the extent, distribution, biodiversity and management of traditional orchards in England. The results were published in 2009. In six different orchards growing different fruits, the researchers and volunteers found almost 900 lichens, mosses and invertebrate species, some of them on the red list of endangered species. A similar study² taking place in 2004 on 2.2ha of orchards, found a staggering 1,800 species across the plant, fungi and animal kingdoms. This goes to show that orchards are hotspots for biodiversity, capable of supporting a wide range of wildlife, including BAP priority habitats and species as well as an array of nationally rare and scarce species.

ketc-cherry-orcahrd

source: Pippa Palmar, https://fruitforum.wordpress.com/2014/05/10/traditional-orchards-open-to-the-public/

But what is the reason for the dwindling of traditional family kept orchards? Apart from the obvious urbanisation eating up the garden space have we simply become too lazy? Working as a gardener in private gardens I keep hearing the same litany: Too much work, too little time, no space. Contrary to popular belief orchards can be very low in their maintenance. Indeed the less interference the more biodiversity can develop in it. It is not necessary to plant a single variety or even species of fruit. The more the merrier and divers! If space is your only problem, consider growing your fruit trees in espalier style! By pruning and training the trees to a two-dimensional shape they can be planted along walls or fences or even form a living-hedge themselves! Where there is a will there is a way so nothing needs to stand between you and your apple tree!

an-espaliered-apple-tree-001

source: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/mar/28/growing-fruit-trees-dan-pearson

In Germany the orchard tradition is also well known and applied under the term ‘Streuobstwiese’ (falling-fruit-meadow). Even more natural and completely devoid of chemical pest control or fertilisers they play a vital role in preserving traditional fruit tree breeds³. While the official market offers around 60 types of apples, there are more than 3000 different species in Europe alone. Orchards are valuable reservoirs for the diversity of apple species and preservation of the gene-pool and excellent source of fresh and ecologic fruit. Since in Germany too, the gardens are getting smaller and the orchards fewer, municipalities frequently plant orchards on public grounds that need to be clear of buildings due to the city planning regulations.

This concept could be applied in the Netherlands as well. Plenty of space like the one next to our very own university building is left fallow, but no one ever seems to be thinking of creating an orchard. Why not plant a handful of fruit trees, leave a meadow under them and a couple of benches? Which student wouldn’t like some delightful, pesticide-free fruits free of charge? Relishing a study break under the apple tree would be so much more enjoyable than just standing on a dismal parking lot in front of the building wouldn’t it? Supporting biodiversity in all its aspects in front of a building in which students study biology and sustainable development seems like a reasonable thing to do. Reviving traditional Dutch breeds would enhance the local biodiversity, aesthetic appeal of the area and culinary benefits for students, staff and passerbys. We need to retrace our botanical heritage if we want to benefit in the future!

DSC_0622

source: private photography

Orchards- a lost treasure worth bringing back!



  1. Natural England Research Report NERR025:  http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/category/23034
  2. The Traditional British Orchard:  http://www.buildingconservation.com/articles/traditional-orchards/traditional-orchards.htm
  3. ÖKOLOGIE DER STREUOBSTWIESEN: http://www.schaetzle-family.de/?p=869
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7 thoughts on “Lost Treasures”

  1. Excellent post! We love fruit trees and have a number of apple varieties, a couple of pear and plums and nut trees. Everyone should have a fruit tree in their garden or ideally two to help fertilization.

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  2. Interesting blog! I think there are several things that can be said about this subject. I do agree with you that more people should put more fruit trees in their garden.
    But I also think that your image of an orchard is way too romantic. I grew up in a family of fruit growers, and not everything is exactly like you state it here. I do think there is a lot of biodiversity, but usually there are no sheeps or other big animals in the orchards. That there are less and less orchards is the fault of the municipalities and the government; we had to give up a big part of our orchard, because the municipality wanted to build houses on this piece of land.
    So they could plant fruit trees now in the open areas, but I’m not sure if this would have an advantage over normal trees. Fruit trees need maintenance, otherwise the fruit won’t be of a very high quality.
    But I like the way you think, I just think that you should adjust your ideas a little more to the Dutch reality.

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    1. Thank you for putting my feet on the ground. Obviously putting sheep or small cattle on the orchards won’t be quite feasible in the Netherlands, but my family grow fruit as well, though only on a subsistence level. The maintenance is barely existent, but the harvests have been really good for many years so I think it’s more a matter of planting the appropriate varieties. We had chicken under the trees btw. Also there are green spaces included in the city plan. If only those are planted instead of simply grassy patches, I am sure the benefits would be substantial.

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  3. Hey,
    Think it’s quite a lovely idea, between the lines of what you say, you can also see a more locally organised resource. This is obviously more sustainable and I would definitely spend more of our brake time in a possible orchard next to the building. Still I don’t think keeping the gene pool necessarily in its full potential state. Not because I don’t care about genetic diversity but because there are seed banks in place that protect the survival of individual species. So I think it’s fine to work that aspect, but it’s not the most crucial part. Furthermore I only wondered, concerning the biodiversity, if orchards have the biggest positive impact? Perhaps other trees that don’t produce something edible for humans can be more efficient for this cause?
    Cheers!

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    1. Thanks a lot! In my planning I am trying to balance human interest as well as biodiversity aspects. Blossoming fruit trees indeed are very beneficial for pollinators as well as a very pleasing sight. Also fallen fruit attract all sorts if wildlife and are much loved by e.g. hedgehogs. Furthermore I am aware of the seed banks, but personally don’t really see the use of frozen seeds if no plant is to ever grow from them.

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