I have planted trees on Arbor Day for the last few years but this year was something amazing. I was lucky enough to be part of a project that placed fifty heritage apple trees on the sunny Rathaus Lawn on the Queens College campus.
This is another one of my friend Erik Baard‘s amazing feats which he files under the Newtown Pippin Restoration and Celebration Project (soon to be re-dubbed Gotham Orchards!). I was pulled in to create a landscape plan for the orchard itself. The project had a compressed timeline, which is good because it is often easy to overthink these sorts of things when faced with deep time horizon.
I cranked out a few options a couple nights before install and had approval the day before from Staci Cohen, Project & Energy Manager with Queens College Buildings and Grounds.
The grounds crew did an amazing job prepping the holes before the volunteers arrived at noon (despite a flat tire on the Bobcat) The auger was definitely a good call by crew leader Gus.
Big ups to Grace Magee who organized the volunteer effort and currently attends Queens College and is a part of the QC Environmental Club.
Some notes from Mr. Baard:
The Newtown Pippin Restoration and Celebration project was founded in 2008 to plant NYC’s historic apple tree (the Newtown Pippin) and other heirloom varieties in public spaces, such as schools, hospitals, community gardens, historic houses, and houses of worship. We aim to have City Council designate the Newtown Pippin, first grown nearly 300 years ago in what’s today known as Elmhurst, Queens, as the official apple of the Big Apple.
While retaining the Newtown Pippin objective, we are expanding to become known as Gotham Orchards, to reflect our work with preserving and replanting the ancestral Kazakh apple forest, and our growing and planting beach plums, elderberry, and other fruit species. We will soon pioneer NYC’s first open air, in ground citrus orchard! By the close of 2012, we will have planted over 1,000 fruit trees.
Sponsors are New York Restoration Project (to which donations for new orchards may be made), Green Apple Cleaners, an anonymous donor, and Nadine Chandy. Brooklyn Botanical Gardens kindly received and stored this season’s sapling delivery (we will pick up your trees Thursday afternoon). Long Island City Bicycles has provided in-kind donations of services and bike rentals this season, to help our work.
Our heirloom and gourmet saplings are provided at discount by Cummins Nursery, which also often provides technical help. Our initial planting will include: (10) Newtown Pippin, of course, and (5 each) Burgundy, Chenango Strawberry, Florina Querina, Buckeye Gala, Honeycrisp, Hudson’s Golden Gem, King of Tomkins County, “Bonkers” (NY 35), Pomme Gris, Sansa, Spigold, and the Dutch colonial Swaar.
Newtown Pippins are the historic apples of NYC, first grown in what is now Elmhurt Queens nearly 300 years ago. They were a favorite of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington and brought to England by Benjamin Franklin. They remain a much-sought gourmet variety. They are picked in early autumn but best eaten in the holiday season after at least a month of cold storage.
This autumn we will add saplings grafted from the ancestral apple forest of Kazakhstan, where the species evolved. The USDA and Cornell University are our partners in this, with Cummins Nursery again growing and providing at a discount. The public growth of these trees (as opposed to keeping them inside research facilities) was my suggestion.
This autumn we might plant a proof of principle temperate zone citrus orchard at Queens College. With success, I will plant a citrus orchard in NYC in cooperation with the NY State Department of Agriculture and Markets and other partners.
Flushing, Queens is the traditional nursery for fruit trees in NYC. This orchard, plus others nearby to which we donated saplings (Bowne High School, Quaker Meeting House, etc.) restores that distinction. Gotham Orchards has also planted an orchard on Randalls Island and fruit trees in locations in all five boroughs.
It is the hope that Queens College will become a vital brain trust for fruit trees growing throughout the city, as students learn horticulture each year.
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