Edmonton

Hidden neighbourhood orchard home to community garden experimentation

There’s a hidden orchard of misshapen trees in the Bannerman neighbourhood that takes up less than 60 linear feet, but produces hundreds of apples.

The Bannerman neighbourhood plots and orchard are fed by a watering system designed to capture rainwater

Bannerman community garden director Dave Ball prunes an espalier apple tree. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

There's a hidden orchard of misshapen trees in the Bannerman neighbourhood that takes up less than 60 linear feet, but produces hundreds of apples.

"I find that people don't even realize they're here," said Dave Ball, director of the Bannerman community garden. "I guess everybody thinks of a tree as being a canopy tree."

This orchard almost disappears entirely, growing flat like a row of large wooden forks woven into the wire fence separating the playground from the community skating rink.

The Bannerman community garden has a mini-orchard of specialty espalier apple trees that are trained to grow flat along the community garden park fence. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

The trees are known as espalier, an ancient horticultural practice of training woody-stemmed plants along a trellis or wall, with the end result looking like a fan of flat branches instead of a traditional wide-reaching canopy.

"I read about them in a magazine article. Then I walked by [the park] and thought, 'geeze, we can do that here,'" said Ball, remembering the moment nearly seven years ago he decided to organize a community garden in his northeast Edmonton neighbourhood.

Ball visited orchards in southern  B.C. to figure out the best way to grow the unusual trees, before purchasing nearly a dozen from a tree farm in Saskatchewan.

Since then, the spirit of experimentation has become an ethos for the Bannerman community garden.

"It's not about getting into production of apples. It's about watching the flowering in the spring, and maybe getting one or two tastes of a ripe apple rather than seeing them all scattered around in the playground and parking lot," he said.

The plots and orchard are fed by a watering system designed to capture rainwater through the community hall's guttering system.

"This was just kind of a Google contraption that we put together," Ball said.

The Bannerman community garden sourced giant containers to collect rainwater from the community hall's guttering system. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

Ball and a group of volunteers sourced giant containers typically used to hold soap at a large-scale car wash. With a few tips from the internet, the group connected the plastic containers to keep an ongoing supply of water handy.

"It's free water. That was part and parcel to a community garden concept," Ball said, adding the entire system cost less than $500.

This year, community garden members are finding success with a new self-watering system they built with a little help from the internet. Vegetables like tomatoes, lettuce and carrots are planted in shallow containers with a filter through the bottom. The filter sits in a channel of water, bringing moisture up into the soil when plants need it.

Lesley Thompson, Bannerman community garden co-director, is experimenting with growing potatoes in a plastic bin this growing season. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

"We try different experiments," said Lesley Thompson, Bannerman community garden co-director. "Being out in the sun, playing with plants and dirt brings people joy."

Thompson is growing potatoes in a large plastic tub this season to see if her yield will be better than a conventional grow bag.

She believes it's the spirit of experimentation and a willingness to fail that makes the gardening experience worthwhile.

"Some of us … are figuring out what's new in gardening and you try it out. It's a big science experiment."

About the Author

Tanara McLean is a producer and journalist at CBC Edmonton. She grew up in Red Deer and has spent her entire career in Alberta, working in print, radio and television.

now