Walsall Arboretum Community Orchard
Tree Warden Jackie Cocken recounts the winter's day in 2010 when the Walsall Tree Warden Network, aided by local primary schoolchildren and volunteers, created a community orchard at Walsall Arboretum with a grant from The Tree Council, and celebrates the progress of the orchard six years on.
"It was December 5th 2010 and I awoke to find a fresh, generous covering of the white stuff over the Black Country. Walsall, not the prettiest of urban scenes, had been transformed overnight into a magical, colourless panorama. For a few moments I stood in awe before my brain sparked into action. Wasn’t today the day we were going to plant an orchard of some 140 fruit trees donated by The Tree Council and already stacked and waiting in the field? Hadn’t we also arranged for a class of local primary schoolchildren and other volunteers to assist in the planting? Hadn’t local dignitaries and Margaret Lipscombe of The Tree Council been invited to attend and give their blessing to this one of several similar events taking place nationally? I hoped this was a dream. Sadly not, it was a real nightmare that once in motion could not be derailed.
But Black Country folk are made of stronger stuff than most and an hour later we are joined by all the intrepid helpers and in a couple of hours the orchard is planted despite our niggling fears of frozen ground and youngsters succumbing to hypothermia! It says something of the mentality of ‘Walsallians’ that our event was the only one that went ahead that day (although I’m not sure it would necessarily be complimentary)!
In July 2014 we held a hay-strewing event in the orchard. We managed to obtain two massive bales of hay cut from a meadow in Worcestershire. A sturdy band of volunteers helped ‘strew’ the hay around chosen parts of the periphery and left it to nature to do the rest. We decided not to mow the greater part of the area but to leave meandering mown pathways for the convenience of park users.
The tree gods must have been so impressed by our efforts that by mid-summer 2016 they had rewarded us with a wonderful, healthy area of productive fruit trees standing proudly above a swaying sea of various grasses intermingled with selected palettes of vibrant colour provided by wildflower plants such as meadow buttercups, oxeye daisies, hawkbit and ladies smock, to name but a few.
Part of the bumper crop of apples in 2015 was distributed to various organisations such as a local food bank, hospice and the remaining fruit was sold at the new Visitors’ Centre which had been officially opened by The Tree Council's Director-General, Pauline Buchanan-Black, the proceeds being used to purchase plants for the children’s Woodland Wildlife Learning Garden.
This ‘community orchard’ is just one element of the Arboretum, Walsall’s biggest park. The park staff, Volunteer Tree Wardens and members of the User Group are unashamedly proud of their contribution to increasing the number and species of trees in the park and in the local community. We hope that these and future efforts will inspire young and old to participate in tree planting and to appreciate the vital role trees play in our lives particularly in urban localities like ours."