Open heritage orchard project for Te Anau garden

Fiordland Heritage Orchard co-ordinator Vanessa Horwell shows the only “Alexander” apple tree in the Henry St Playground open orchard in Te Anau. This variety is one of several hundred apple trees of Russian origin brought into New Zealand in the early 1800s.

FIORDLAND Community Garden staff initiated an Open Heritage Orchard project in Te Anau’s Henry St Playground last year.

The project was started by Fiordland Community Garden Orchard co-ordinator Andrea Staben as a joint project with Robyn and Robert Guyton from the South Coast Environment Society.

It is part of the SCES Open Orchard project which aims to get a diverse range of old varieties of healthy heritage fruit trees back into our Southland communities.

Fiordland Heritage Orchard co-ordinator Vanessa Horwell said the Guytons had helped to establish 15 heritage orchard parks throughout Southland.

Her role is to organise the fruit trees, get them planted and mulched, and look after them.

“The purpose of the orchard is to preserve old varieties of fruit trees from when the European settlers arrived in Fiordland. We are on the hunt for old orchards, heritage fruit
trees or even a good roadside tree.’’

The team was keen to hear from people who had any old fruit trees, ideally from before World War 1.

‘‘We can take cuttings from these and graft them on to new trees to preserve them in our Heritage Orchard,” she said.

The Community Garden team is looking to hold future pruning and fruit tree grafting workshops to teach people how to look after fruit trees in their own gardens.

“Ten of the 13 fruit trees in Henry St were planted on September 11 and the balance planted on September 28. One of the trees was sponsored by the Erskine family to commemorate Tony Erskine — the Erskines came and helped us to plant the trees.

“We ran a sponsorship campaign last year and got a fantastic response from the public. All the current trees are sponsored, which has really helped to establish the orchard. Each tree will get a label with the name of the tree and who has sponsored it. Some of the sponsors came and planted their own tree which was pretty cool,’’ she said.

“The fruit trees in the garden are all heritage varieties with seven apple trees (Alexander, Kentish Fillbasket x 2, Peasgood Nonsuch, Claygate Pearmain, Priscilla and Blenheim Orange), two white-fleshed nectarines, two greengages, a quince and a blackboy peach.

‘‘Plans for future planting is to take the total to 30, along with some plum and pear trees and more apple trees sourced from Redcliff Station and the Murrells in Manapouri.’’

Ms Horwell said most of the trees had established quite well. Some got off to a bad start as the trees were at the garden during last year’s lockdown and weren’t able to be watered.

‘‘We have started planting a fruit tree guild around each tree — this is a grouping of herbs and companion plants that together form a mini ecosystem, which will attract beneficial
insects, deter pests, and improve nutrient and mineral availability to the fruit trees.’’

Fiordland Community Garden board members and Fiordland College pupils had been helping out at the orchard, laying cardboard and mulch.

“SDC and Harlan Johnson donated the arborists’ mulch and a huge thank you to Mary Chartres who has done an outstanding job of watering the fruit trees over this hot, dry summer. Plans are afoot to install an irrigation system to reduce the time required to water
the orchard.’’

■ Anyone wanting to help out with the orchard can email Ms Horwell at