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Collaborative Design of Alexandra Park Food Forest

In March we planted the Alexandra Park Food Forest in Glasgow. With fruit and nut trees, fruit bushes, and a wildflower meadow planted in June, this is certainly one of the most ambitious community orchard efforts that Helping Britain Blossom have been a part of.

The project started in August last year with a free four session training course developed to formulate a design for the food forest and train community members in orchard skills, working with nature to enhance the park for wildlife and people alike.

We asked those living and working near Alexandra Park if they would like to learn how to grow fruit, meet their neighbours and help to plant an orchard for the benefit of the local community.

The training included an introduction to forest gardening and practical orchard design skills, delivered by Lusi Alderslowe; a visit to Graham Bell’s Forest Garden in October to celebrate Apple Day; and a session on orchard companion planting with Margaret Lear.

We talked to Max Johnson, a member of the local community and a part of the group helping make the Food Forest blossom, about his experience at the training, why he got involved and what his hopes are for the Alexandra Park Food Forest.

What interested you in attending the design workshops for the Alexandra Park community orchard?

I am really passionate about growing food locally as a community. It makes sense environmentally and is also a great way of meeting new people and for communities to come together and move towards building the sort of environment they want to live in. I also recently completed a Permaculture Design Course and saw the workshops as a way of building on that knowledge and of getting some hands on collaborative design experience. It’s quite rare to come across such a golden opportunity that combines all of the above!

What did the workshops involve?

The orchard was designed as a forest garden, mimicking the variations in heights of plants and trees found in natural forests, using permaculture principles which urge among other things that we consider the effect our actions will have on people and the environment. So, the sessions involved really exploring what permaculture is in theory and practice, diving into lots of detail about important design considerations for our site – slopes, soil quality, how to build swales etc, and learning about forest gardening theory and plants we would benefit from including. This last aspect had a lot of time devoted to it as we needed to select fruit, nut, and nitrogen fixing trees that would be best suited to our site.

What did you learn at the sessions?

The sessions really boosted my knowledge of fruit and nut tree types and how to care for them. It can seem a very technical and intimidating subject – the sessions made it all much more approachable and manageable. It was also great to have a session from Apple Tree Man about forest gardening and the interesting, and delicious, plants that are involved in that.

Did you learn anything in particular that you are looking forward to sharing with others?

I have really enjoyed passing on what I learned about how soil is packed with living organisms that ultimately ensure that plants are able to get the nutrients they need. The fungal networks under the soil, transferring nutrients from plant to plant, are fascinating. I really love the permaculture style of planting nitrogen fixers and deep-rooted plants that bring up nutrients from the sub-soil alongside your fruit and vegetables, then relying on fungal networks and the ‘cut and drop’ method to make sure your plants are well fed. It’s a much more harmonious, environmentally friendly means of growing than mainstream, industrial farming, requiring an intelligent, well-informed connection to nature, and is infinitely more rewarding for those who practice it.

What hopes do you have for the Alexandra Park Food Forest?

I really hope the food forest inspires local people, helping them to see the land around them as rich with potential to produce big, delicious harvests of food in an environmentally friendly way. It’s in a fantastically beautiful, peaceful and sunny spot so I would also love to see it be well used by the public.

And finally, would you encourage other community groups who are hoping to plant an orchard to get more involved in the overall design process?

Yes! It has helped us all understand our site a lot better and to feel much more connected to it. We know the soil quality, the contours, the sunny spots, the boggy patches, the issues and opportunities that presented themselves due to these aspects, and the subsequent design decisions that were made collectively. This all means we have a food forest that we’re really knowledgeable about and very, very proud of. We also all now feel very competent, as we have the knowledge and skills to be able to design other spaces and to react to any issues that might arise in our own site. So, yes, get involved in design!

You can keep up to date with what’s happening at the Alexandra Park Food Forest over on their Facebook page

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Why Orchards Orchards have played an important role in our communities for hundreds of years, providing a communal space for gatherings and celebrations. Find an Orchard Our ambition by 2017 is to help 100 communities to plant, care for and restore their own orchards. And to get things going, we're focusing on cities and towns in seven parts of the UK