Designing an Orchard: Ben Nobleman’s Story

There’s a lot of work to be done before planting a community orchard. First you need to find a space to plant your trees, find the hardiest varieties to plant for your area and figure out where you’re going to place everything to make your park both beautiful and fruitful.

We had the help of landscape architect Jane Hutton to create designs for our orchard which we were able to present to our community at two community meetings organized by our City Councillor Joe Mihevc.

The goal was to help local residents imagine what the orchard would look like. Our plan changed quite drastically as a result of community feedback, but below you can see how the orchard plan progressed.

The proposed new trees are colour coded to represent the type of tree they are:

Red: Cherry
Purple: Plum
Green: Apple
Light Green: Pear
Orange: Hickory
Dark Blue: Serviceberry
Light Blue: Paw Paw

First Draft Design of Ben Nobleman Community Orchard by Jane Hutton

The first draft was ambitious. We hoped for about 40 fruit trees around the periphery of the park. The trees were grouped by the type of fruit they produce to maximize the impact of the blossoms in spring.

Since different types of fruit blossom at different times of the year, the park would be a moveable feast (for the eyes) of blossoms, starting with the cherries early in the spring and moving on to the apples, pears and plums.

By the time the fruit trees produce sizable harvests, the orchard would offer a different kind of movable feast. Species were chosen so that the harvest continued throughout the season, with cherries in July, early apples, pears and plums in August, and later varieties of apples and pears in the autumn.

Our goal was that there would always be something to harvest – or just nibble on – in the park. And our hope was that the fruit could feed our volunteers, our wider community, and that much could be donated to local agencies and the food bank.

The main changes in this second draft design for the orchard is that there are fewer trees and they are further towards the periphery of the park. Some in the community were concerned that the orchard would take up too much green space and was too close to the children’s playground.

Other concerns were that the fruit trees would attract too many bees, or that they would be messy.

Second Draft Design of Ben Nobleman Community Orchard

The third draft again had fewer fruit trees and none near the playground in the south east corner. The agreed total was that the orchard would be home to 14 fruit trees and a additional number of flowering and shade trees like serviceberries and shagbark hickory trees.

Third Draft Design of Ben Nobleman Community Orchard

The orchard is still a work in progress. So far 14 fruit trees have been planted and instead of implementing Jane’s design, Parks, Forestry and Recreation decided to keep all the trees on the periphery of the park as illustrated in Marlena Zuber’s orchard map below. This was an effort to preserve ball playing space in the middle of the park.

Ben Nobleman Park's Orchard Layout in 2011

While we would have loved to implement Jane’s original design, the concept of a community orchard was still very new when we pitched our project and so our trees were placed discretely around the exterior of the park. I believe that orchards establishing themselves in the future will find it easier to implement their plans since the idea of community orchards is becoming very popular in Toronto.

And if you have an orchard…why not flaunt it?

We expect that we will be able to harvest some fruit (probably cherries) by 2012. In 2015, these first nine fruit trees should have a good sized harvest but some fruit trees take about 10 years until they have full production. If gardening teaches you anything, it teaches you patience. Good things are worth the wait!