One of the first steps when we encounter a new group is gathering them together for an orchard design session. Rather than dictate what we think a community should plant and where each tree should go, we listen and respond with our expert advice as required. It’s an opportunity for communities to really take ownership of greenspaces. Designing not only a fruitful space but one that compliments its surroundings, improves biodiversity and encourages people to come together beyond mere harvesting of fruit.
I’ll never forget meeting one East Manchester orchard leader for the first time, because a phrase she used stuck with me and is something I still repeat to the groups I advise. ‘”Think of your community orchard as a venue”. This has served as useful guidance when I shape the orchard designs and celebrates we run with local groups. But now, we have another, more practical, guide to help community groups with their orchard design process. Behold! The Orchard Design Kit! A wooden work of wonder.
A bit of background:
When we were deciding where to hold our Manchester Wassail in 2017, we considered the pagan roots of wassailing. Stretford’s Longford Park felt like the most fitting venue, due to an actual, small, stone circle (sadly a modern structure, rather than an actual ancient relic! see below). During the wassail, a lady next to me proudly stated, “I’m a bit witchy y’know”, which seemed to confirm the choice! The point is, an orchard design needs to take into account how people will use it, as well as what conditions will allow the trees to thrive.
The community orchard in Reddish Vale Country Park, Stockport, is centred around a large oak tree. The circular bench around its base became the perfect stage for our storyteller, Susie Oldfield, to tell her ancient orchard tales during a recent Blossom Picnic (below).
Historically, we’d done a lot of orchard mapping and planning on 2D printed maps. But these didn’t always have a standardised scale, would not allow the quick relocation of trees, nor the differentiation between different rootstocks. We wanted to really get a feel for the spaces we were creating in a tangible way. In 2018, our corporate partner, Heineken UK, provided funding for the development of our first, pilot Orchard Design Kit (or ODK).
Myself (an ex-senior designer) and our Glasgow Project Manager, Fergus, (also a talented product designer with the mindset of an engineer) set about designing a toolkit that would make the orchard design process tactile, engaging and fun. We wanted to produce a wooden, laser-cut kit that any garden designer could pick up, use in a group setting (along with a scale map of a chosen site), and really play around physically with trees placement.
Development and Key Features:
Fergus spent hour-upon-hour researching rootstocks to come up with a table for everything from apple, pear, cherry, plum and even nut trees. We can now make the kit work at either a 1:50 scale or 1:100 scale.
The 1:50 scale is perfect for small sites, like back gardens or small allotments; whereas the 1:100 size suits larger sites and the designing of orchards with dozens, or even hundreds of trees. It also allows for simpler calculations, with 1cm = 1meter. So, a bog-standard 30cm ruler comes in handy, but the final kit does come complete with scale-rulers and tree spacing guides.
We worked with our local FabLab (whose fantastic spaces are a giant playground for Design & Technology geeks! Think laser cutters, 3D printers, CNC machines and every tool under the sun at your disposal!). Here we developed a test kit, starting with cardboard tests and then moving on to wood, even trialling the potential for orchard arches at this stage.
We took the test kit to our Orchard Summit event in Edinburgh in 2018. It was a hit, so we went about refining it and focusing on its presentation. We wanted it to be something each user would treasure and enjoy using, while also making it as sustainable as possible in its production. The result is laser-cut ply sheets which fit together to form a neat box. Now the kit can be easily carried to a design session, as the box is held in place with brass fixings.
Each kit comes supplied with eight, flat A3 sheets. You remove ‘trees’, by using a push-and-rock motion (see below). This doesn’t have to be done all at once; you only take what you need to a design session along with (our recommendations – ) wipeable pens, scale rulers, spacers and cork bases. The latter were a deliberate design choice to reinforce our mantra to always leave space for a mulch pile around the base of your trees. So they do more than just keep the ODK pieces stable.
Our favourite part of using the kit is at the end of session, when we get down to eye level with the design and capture a photo looking right through the orchard, to give the group an idea of how it will look on the ground (see the example below (left), taken during a collaborative design session for an orchard extension at the Fallowfield Loop site in Manchester, and how it looks once planted just weeks later (right); a near perfect match!).
Using a to-scale 3D kit also has one other major benefit, using the same mobile phone (with its compass and torch turned on) you can locate where the sun rises and sets. Thus ensuring that your design gets enough light and that you’re not shading out any trees.
ODK: Available Now!
We’re pleased to say that the development phase is now complete, and the kits are available as follows:
- For community groups designing an orchard, one-off rental costs from £25 per month (excluding transit costs).
- For forest garden practitioners, landscape designers or individuals with a passion for designing garden spaces, a complete kit can be purchased for £280.
- A team member can also visit to guide you through the design process, get in touch for a quote (while our design sessions work best in person, the Covid-19 restrictions may require this to be done virtually*).
- Find out more about our consultancy and ODK offerings here. Or contact Dan for more information.
*Meanwhile, as a fun way to see how orchard design sessions might work during lockdown, we applied a similar cross-cut 3D trees to real-life locations using Google Earth. Here are the resulting images (including an orchard envisaged on top of Mount Everest for fun!)
NB. We wouldn’t recommend Mt Everest as an ideal planting location due to high winds, elevation and transportation logistics! 😉 But, watch this space for a potential virtual design service in 2021…
Written by our Manchester based project manager, Dan Hasler – firstname.lastname@example.org
ODK Design & Photos © The Orchard Project 2021
Wassail and Storytelling © Hannah Beatrice