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Celebrating the planting of fruit trees for the “Our Town is an Orchard” project, photo by Joan Taylor-Rowan

Our Town is an Orchard

Tree correspondent Joan Taylor-Rowan visits Alexandra Park for the launch of the “Our Town is an Orchard” project. She discovers how the growers of Hastings and St Leonards can take part in this fruitful project.

Being the Tree Correspondent gets you invited to some lovely and surprising events. It was in that capacity that I arrived in Alexandra Park, for a fruit-tree planting to launch the “Our Town is an Orchard” initiative.

‘We want people to plant as many fruit trees as possible across Hastings and St Leonards from the September equinox to the March equinox,’ said Anna Locke, permaculture gardener and fruit enthusiast.

Planting a fruit tree by Art in the Park, Alexandra Park, photo by JTR

The project was awarded a grant from the National Lottery “Together for our Planet” initiative, promoting community action in response to the climate emergency. Our Town is an Orchard will encourage the planting of fruit trees, and then produce a register and a map of the ‘town orchard’ to monitor its progress. ‘Anyone can be part of this project including community groups,’ Anna said, ‘All they have to do is plant a fruit tree in their garden, (with permission if they’re a community group), and then register it on our site, Our Town is an Orchard – Town Grown It has to be a newly-planted fruit tree.’

There’s certainly an enthusiastic food-growing community here. A survey conducted in St Leonard’s by “Town Grown” (part of Transition Town, Hastings) showed that 75% of people already grow food in their gardens, so building on this enthusiasm seemed a perfect way to improve the local ecosystem and provide more local food. Oops, lots of organisation names to juggle with here, I know, but as Anna explains, ‘The Transition Town movement is the mothership concerned with all things sustainable, Town Grown – a local food-growers network – is one of its satellites.’

Anna Locke, author, permaculturalist and member of Town Grown, photo by JTR

Recent events – pandemics, extreme weather, war, have made us all too aware that communities need to be able to secure food locally.  As Anna says in her book – The Forager’s Garden, ‘when the pandemic hit, I knew that even my incomplete forager’s garden was full of food… it was reassuring to know that when everything was so uncertain, I had something. It’s this sense of reassurance that I’d like to share.’

Anna Locke and the other members of Town Grown – Hannah Robbins, Vicki Cooke and Ursula McLaughlin, are delighted that Alexandra Park, a park of national importance, has allowed them to plant this mini-orchard on the edge of the old bowling green next to Art in the Park. Although there’s been some issues with pre-existing irrigation pipes on the site, it’s something that both parties want to resolve. ‘After all,’ Art in the Park manager Tara Reddy says, ‘this mini-orchard is part of a wider vision to reach out to the community and get more people involved with the park.’

If you are now fired-up and ready to plant a fruit tree, then Town Grown will be running some FREE EVENTS to help you choose and maintain your tree. All this information can be found on the Town Grown website.

After our informative talk, Anna, ably assisted by volunteers, planted three trees, a toringo crab-apple with luscious maroon foliage, a Victoria plum and an Asian pear. When the season is right, they will plant herbal tea plants such as raspberry, blackcurrant and mint, alongside them.

Keswick codlin sweet cooking apples, from Anna Locke’s orchard, photo JTR

Once the trees were in, we “wassailed them” with song, urging them to grow well and provide a bountiful harvest. Afterwards we shared scones with home-made jam, then bags of heritage East Sussex apples from Anna Locke’s own orchard, were eagerly claimed in the free raffle.

Anna ‘s book, The Forager’s Garden, will warm the heart of anyone who wants “an edible sanctuary in your own backyard,” and I for one will be curled up, as the weather grows colder, working out which unproductive corners of my garden can produce delicious food and fruits for the coming year. And I won’t forget to register the new fruit tree that I buy so that I know I am part of the Hastings and St Leonards Town Orchard.

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Posted 20:09 Monday, Oct 10, 2022 In: Green Times

Also in: Green Times

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