Many of our nation’s presidents have loved and cultivated their own garden of fresh fruits and vegetables on the White House lawn. So here are a couple of fun facts this President’s Day about the White House and its history in edible landscaping.
Over the years, 1600 pounds of food have been harvested from the White House gardens.
John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams were very ambitious growers and made plans for installing fruiting trees and plants in the newly established White House.
In 1835, Andrew Jackson built a tropical greenhouse to try and grow citrus in the winter months. It was later taken down, the West Wing was eventually built in its place.
Former First Lady Ellen Wilson designed the Rose Garden which has a signature Katherine Crab Apple Tree as a defining feature.
Eleanor Roosevelt established the edible Victory Garden on the White House lawn and inspired 20 million Americans to do the same to support war efforts and prevent food shortages.
The Clintons established and planted a rooftop garden that supplied food for their family dinners.
Every year the chef races to harvest the blueberry bushes before the birds get to them.
The seeds for the latest White House kitchen garden come from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello home in Virginia.
The Obama family has a Kitchen Garden on the South Lawn meant to feed visitors and the First family. Some of the planted fruits include strawberries, raspberries, and a new addition, a paw paw tree.
If the White House can do it, so can you! Happy President’s Day!
We begin our President’s Day series of blogs by City Fruit staff members with a focus on Thomas Jefferson and his favorite fruit.
Heath Cling Peach
My husband is a long-time admirer of Thomas Jefferson so we have had plenty of conversations about our third president and his personally designed Virginia home, Monticello. When investigating the Monticello orchards, I first focused only on Jefferson’s favorite apples, the Esopus Spitzenburg and Newtown Pippin. Thought maybe I’d plant those varieties of apples in honor of the man and his orchard … haven’t yet.
But this week I dug deeper into Mr. Jefferson’s fruit fancies and smiled when I learned that he and I share the same favorite fruit: the lovely, delicate, versatile, scrumptious, elusive but not impossible to grow in our climate peach.
Peaches, native to China, were introduced to North America in the 16th century by Spanish or French settlers. At Jefferson’s South Orchard at Monticello he planted over 1,000 fruit trees, including 38 new peach cultivars. By 1811 the orchard had 160 peach trees, by far the most of any fruit growing there. Peach cultivars that Jefferson planted in the Monticello orchard included American originals such as Heath Cling, Oldmixon Cling and Free, Morris’ Red Rareripe, and Indian Blood Cling.
Indian Blood Cling Peach
Jefferson’s abundant peaches were made into a cider-like beverage called mobby, which was often distilled into brandy. Or they were juiced and mixed with tea, or peeled and pickled, or sprinkled with sugar and dried in the sun.
Not surprisingly, Thomas Jefferson also created the first American recipe for ice cream, and had it served often at his homes throughout his lifetime.
As we head into Martin Luther King, Jr., weekend, I have been thinking about the man and, more broadly, the movement this holiday seeks to recognize. Whenever I think about the Civil Rights Movement, I find myself oscillating between the macro, “arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” perspective that encapsulates the struggles humanity faces as a whole, and the stories that helped define the movement and highlight injustices.
One of the stories that comes to mind pertains to the four African American college students in North Carolina known as the “Greensboro Four.” One day in early 1960, these students decided to walk down to a local diner and perform the simple act of ordering a cup of coffee. They waited all day without ever receiving service. Long story short, over the course of the next few weeks and months, this simple act inspired sit-ins across North Carolina and several other southern states, solidifying these actions as highly effective forms of peaceful protest across much of the south that culminated in desegregation.
Almost sixty years after the sit-in by the Greensboro Four, it’s important to reflect on what it means to have equal rights in today’s society. At City Fruit, we believe everyone should have ready access to fresh, nutritious food. In the State of Washington, almost 15 percent of households report being “food insecure,” and 1 in 6 people rely on SNAP. While the barriers today may be different, those who lack the means to access the food they need still suffer needlessly.
Over the course of this weekend, I will think about what Dr. King’s words and deeds mean to me personally. I will reflect about what it means to be a good citizen, and how I should show support and solidarity with fellow human beings struggling in ways I can hardly begin to fathom. It’s easy to get too muddled in the abstract and forget that small, simple acts of kindness are what really make profound changes. By picking apples from a tree, I can ensure that hundreds of kids and families can count on a healthy snack each week. I’m thankful that my job at City Fruit allows me to spend time trying to do good for my fellow community members in Seattle, and to all of City Fruit’s supporters who make our work possible.
There is still much to be done to address inequalities in our society. As I think about my roles and responsibilities not just at City Fruit, but in life, I will remember the words of the man whose life we honor during this time every year. I think you’ll agree Dr. King’s words resonate now as much as they did 40 years ago:
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Even a superficial look at history reveals that no social advance rolls in on the wheels inevitably. Every step towards the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle: the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. Without persistent effort, time itself becomes an ally of the insurgent and primitive forces of irrational emotionalism and social destruction. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”
Luke Jesperson is City Fruit’s Harvest and Community Outreach Manager.
Meridian Park Orchard - Photo by Audrey L. Lieberworth
Meridian Park is located on the wide expanse of parkland in front of the Good Shepherd Center. Mark Wilson, the property manager for the Good Shepherd Center, states that the building, which was constructed in 1905, originally housed the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, a Roman Catholic order of nuns that were devoted to the care, rehabilitation and education of girls and young women in crisis. The Sisters of the Good Shepherd believed that by providing the benefits of a stable and loving home, the girls could become responsible, moral and caring women. The nuns planted and maintained an orchard at the site in order to teach the girls home economics, how to cook and grow food.
This site operated until 1973 when, as a result of receiving fewer donations, the Center closed. Ashley Fent’s survey of the fruit trees in Seattle Parks documents that after its closure, community members took action to preserve the site as a historic landmark and the parkland was acquired by SPD in 1976. Over sixty apple, pear and plum trees remain at both Meridian Park and the Good Shepherd Center, which is now used to house various local business practices. The SPD and Historic Seattle take care of these fruit trees.
Editor’s Note: In addition, Don Ricks, resident City Fruit blogger and involved in the Seattle Tree Fruit Society, looks after these trees as well. He often organizes volunteers for pruning, foot sock application, and harvesting. The Good Shepherd Center is also home to Seattle Tilth.
An old apple tree located along the Trail and under the Interstate 5 overpass; photographed by Audrey Lieberworth
There are a lot of fruit trees scattered along the Burke-Gilman Trail that winds its way through Seattle. The fruit trees that are of particular note are the six located right by Gas Works Park. Not much is known about when these fruit trees were planted, but Barb Burrill, one of the community members involved in taking care of these trees, states that there are numerous fruit trees on the streets and in the backyards of residents in Wallingford, the surrounding neighborhood, that were planted long before the current residents bought the property. As such, Burrill speculates that the history of these fruits trees is most likely connected to the development of the Burke-Gilman Trail and the surrounding neighborhood.
What is now known as the Burke-Gilman Trail was not initially created as a path for pedestrians and bicyclists. As related in the Burke-Gilman Trail History, in 1885, the early settlers Judge Thomas Burke, Daniel Gilman and ten other investors wanted to build a railroad that started in Seattle and connected to the Canadian Transcontinental line. They hoped that this railroad would help turn Seattle into an economic, trade and transportation center, and connect it to the broader network of trade. After the development of the railroad, it was used heavily to support logging between 1913-1963, but was finally abandoned in 1971 (“Burke-Gilman Trail History”). At this point, members of the community recognized the value of the path for recreational and non-motorized transportation. The City of Seattle, the University of Washington, and King County worked together in order to transform it into a recreational route, and it was dedicated on August 19th, 1978 (“Burke-Gilman Trail History”). The utilization of this path as a railroad track served as a catalyst for development of communities along the route and it is very likely that the communities that grew around this path planted the fruit trees.
Map of Burke-Gilman Trail near Gas Works (click for larger map)
The community members taking care of the fruit trees are not sure who owns which trees along the Burke-Gilman Trail because, as Burrill explains, the land along the path forms a patchwork of ownership between Seattle City Light, SPD and Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). However, with regards to the six apple trees in this specific section of the Trail, these different departments have granted permission to SPD and community members to take care of them. These apple trees have received a lot of pruning, predominantly at the oldest tree under Interstate 5. Community members have also been treating the apple trees for pest management because they have coddling moths and apple maggots. As a preventative measure, they have placed nylon socks over the individual pieces of fruit to protect them from exposure to more pests. Orchard stewards will likely begin taking care of more fruit trees along the Trail in the next year.
The historic orchard at Piper’s Canyon, photographed by Audrey Lieberworth
Piper’s Orchard at Carkeek Park is one of the oldest orchards with an abundance of fruit trees in Seattle. As the “Piper Oral History Meeting” of February 20, 1984 recounts, the first owner of this land was the Piper family, which included Bavarian-born Andrew W. Piper, his wife Wilhelmina and their children. The family originally settled in what is present-day downtown Seattle, where Piper ran a konditorei, or a confectioner’s shop that sold baked goods and candy. However, his shop was burned down in Seattle’s Great Fire in 1889, and soon after, the family moved up north to an 80-acre plot of land by Piper’s Canyon, located in what is now Carkeek Park. The family planted an orchard on the land with many pioneer varieties, such as the German Bietigheimer, and a large vegetable garden. The “Piper Oral History Meeting” notes state that while Minna and her son Paul were the main caretakers of the garden, her husband often used the fruit harvested from the orchards to make pies. Minna and Paul took the fruits and vegetables from the orchard and their vegetable garden into town to sell. However, Piper died in 1904, and the City forced his family off the property a little while later to create Carkeek Park.
Carkeek Park was one of the first parks established in Seattle. Brandt Morgan, author of Enjoying Seattle Parks, a description and history of the parks that had been established by the time of publication in 1979, relates that Morgan J. Carkeek and his wife, Emily, settled in Seattle in 1875. Carkeek was a stonemason from England and one of Seattle’s best early artisan contractors. The park originally dedicated in Carkeek’s name was located on Pontiac Bay on Lake Washington 1918; however in 1926, the land was turned over to the federal government in order to operate a Naval Air Station. Consequently, Morgan states that Carkeek donated $25,000 in 1928 for a new park to be located at Piper’s Canyon and the City put up $100,000, to create the park. Carkeek Park opened for operation one year after this plan was finalized.
Since its creation, Carkeek Park has been utilized for a variety of different purposes. Some of the more notable uses were a sawmill company that was operated on the parkland in the 1920s, which usurped all of the timber in the original forested land, and the Whiz Company, whose fish traps were used to collect salmon until 1932. The park was then used to create work for those who were hard-hit by the Depression to make camp buildings and forest trails. Later, the park was used for a loop road, shelter, and picnic area in 1953, and a model airplane field in 1959. The park then slowly evolved into a place for community gathering, in part because of the discovery of the orchard after many decades of abandonment in the 1980s.
Map of Carkeek Park. Piper’s Orchard resides within the park.
In 1981, Daphne Lewis, a landscape architect, stumbled upon Piper’s Orchard, covered by layers of blackberry bushes. Lewis discovered the orchard in the process of surveying Carkeek Park in order to create a master plan for park restoration. Bob Baines, a SPD employee who was involved in the original restoration project, recalls that the restoration team consisted of volunteers, descendants of the Piper family and members of the newly formed Piper’s Orchard chapter of the Western Cascade Tree Fruit Association. The Piper’s Orchard chapter adopted and began to take care of the orchard. As part of this restoration effort, more pioneer varieties of apples were planted, which included Wagener, Red Astrachan, King, and Wolf River. The first wave of orchard restoration brought together the knowledge, expertise and resources of different members of the community.
Interest in taking care of this orchard has wavered over the years. However, a new era of the Piper’s Orchard restoration project began about five years ago, asserts Brian Gay, a naturalist for SPD at Carkeek Park. At this time, SPD and orchard volunteers put together a sustainability plan complete with recommendations for future care of the orchard. Afterwards, there was renewed interest in the educational opportunities that the orchard offered.
Today the orchard includes 82 fruit trees, 30 of which were originally planted by the Piper family. There is an abundance of apple, cherry, chestnut, filbert, pear, walnut and hawthorn trees all planted on the park hillside. Don Ricks, president of Friends of Piper’s Orchard, mentions that many of the fruit trees suffer from apple scab, a fungal disease, but they are putting up pheromone destructors and nylon socks in an attempt to counteract the incidence of pests.
While SPD owns the land, the non-profit organization Friends of Piper’s Orchard tends and maintains the orchard.
One of three different plots of orchards at Dr. Jose Rizal Park, overlooking Interstate 5 and downtown Seattle -- photographed by Audrey Lieberworth
Dr. Jose Rizal Park, located on Beacon Hill, was created as a byproduct of the early settlers’ efforts to transform Seattle into a city. Settlers recognized the importance of the land just west of Beacon Hill as a shipping and industrial center because it was located right at the point where the mouth of the Duwamish River meets Elliot Bay. However, the transportation of people and goods inland and south was difficult because a glacier that passed through Seattle 15,000 years ago carved out a steep saddle between what is now First Hill and Beacon Hill. In the late 1890s and early 1900s, settlers began to level out the saddle, which made transportation far easier and also allowed a flourishing industrial center to appear west of Beacon Hill. In the 1960s, land was designated for a park meadow on the side of Beacon Hill as part of construction for the freeway that passes right through the area. In 1971, SPD acquired the meadow to create for a park.
In 1974, this park was dedicated to the memory of the Filipino patriot Dr. Jose Rizal. The park is located in an area that drew a significant Filipino immigrant population starting in 1900, after the Spanish-American War made the Philippines an American Protectorate. Dr. Jose Rizal was a Filipino patriot known for making “lasting contributions to medicine, psychology, literature, anthropology, art, drama, philosophy, botany, zoology, engineering, agriculture, and – above all – political and social reform”. This dedication reaffirmed the significance of the Filipino population in the Seattle community. Today, the park is still a popular gathering place for the Filipino community and they have also been a major source of support for the orchard rejuvenation project.
Click for larger map
It is unclear when this orchard was planted. However, Craig Thompson, a community member involved in the restoration of the orchard, believes that it dates back to the 1950s. Thompson states that there are three orchards at the park that are taken care of by community members and SPD. The largest, to the east, just downhill from the park’s scenic overlook, has twenty crab and true apple trees. One of the crab apples produces fruit, and orchard stewards and volunteers successfully grafted scions of the Victory variety of apple onto other crab stock. This orchard – the main orchard – is sided by a restored natural forest area to the south, a stand of Leyland cypresses to the west, and to the north a stand of European white birches. A second, smaller orchard is located further downhill and across a service road, and has five Winesaps, a fruiting crab apple, and another true apple variety. Further north, a third stand of three true apples sits inside the park, beside the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trail, a pedestrian and non-motorized transport path. Just south of the park are legacy nut and fruit trees planted by early Seattle settler, Katie Black. The nearby Katie Black Garden, which was laid out in 1914, commemorates her.
The origins of the surviving historic orchards are connected to the rich narratives of the early settlement and development of Seattle communities since the late 1800s. Many of these historic orchards contain a diversity of tall heirloom varieties, instead of the semi-dwarf or dwarf, specialized and standardized varieties. Some of the orchards that were planted recently have heirloom varieties, but they are mostly semi-dwarf or dwarf species. The eleven orchards are only a few of the vast network of fruit trees that spreads across Seattle.
Apple and cherry trees at Martha Washington Park; photographed by Audrey Lieberworth
Like many of the other orchards in Seattle, the orchard at Martha Washington Park has a rich history. The pioneer E.A. Clark, Seattle’s third schoolteacher was the first settler to own the land, but he soon sold it to settler David Graham in 1855, who then sold it to his brother Walter Graham ten years later. Graham was a horticulturist and planted the orchard found here.
The location of Graham’s land was close to the cable and trolley cars that traveled to the city center, which enabled easy transport of their harvested produce into town to sell. Graham ended up selling his land to Asa Mercer, who is known for sending two groups of maidens north to Seattle to help meet the demand for single settlers had for wives. Graham met Mercer because he married one of Mercer’s young women. However, Mercer ended up selling the piece of property to John Wilson soon after as payment for a loan because he went bankrupt after sending his second shipment of brides.
In 1889, Wilson sold the piece of land to Everett Smith, an attorney who was the clerk for Judge Thomas Burke. Smith later sold the property to the Seattle School District in 1920, which turned the property into the Martha Washington School for Girls in order to provide resident supervision for delinquent girls. In 1957, the state of Washington took over care of the site, and in 1972 the City of Seattle acquired the land.
Today there are nine cherry and apple trees left on the property, cared for by SPD and community members. Jim Kramer, one of the community orchard stewardssays that many of the trees do not have harvestable fruit because they have apple maggot flies, which they are trying to counteract by putting nylon socks on the individual pieces of fruit.Kramer states that since these trees are very old, the fruit is 30 feet up in the air and not very accessible. One of the main tasks to accomplish in the next three or four years is to do major pruning in order to encourage fruit production lower on the tree. Kramer hopes that they will also be able to plant more fruit trees at the site in the future.
As a follow up to my post about the historic Piper Orchard, I thought I would focus on a slightly newer orchard — Brandon Street Orchard in the Hillman City neighborhood. If you’re not familiar with that neighborhood, you can find a map here.
Things got started in 2004 when a group of neighbors were awarded a Department of Neighborhoods Small & Simple Matching Grant for about $8,000. That might seem like a lot of money but that price tag included the purchase of the land from King County, getting rid of the blackberries that were there, hooking up the water meter, bringing in good soil, purchasing & planting of trees, etc. That initial investment got things going.
A couple years later, another Small & Simple Matching Grant helped with the purchase of the materials for the garden shed, some additional plants, and apparently a cider press — which is a great investment for any orchard that has a significant number of apples.
Because it’s such a new orchard, there is little history behind it. However, the community seems very involved in the orchard with a number of garden tours, work parties, and the like all dedicated to the upkeep of this urban orchard.
Depending on who you ask and the source of information, today could be Johnny Appleseed Day. Some people celebrate it on the anniversary of his death (either March 11 or March 18 — this seems to be sketchy), while others choose to celebrate it on the anniversary of his birth, September 26. Either way, it’s a good excuse to learn more about the man & the legend.
First, let’s start off with a song to get us all in the mood. From the Disney film The Legend of Johnny Appleseed. The full version (in two parts) can be seen here — narrated by James Earl Jones.
We’ve all heard the stories and seen the images of Johnny Appleseed walking around, generally barefoot, spreading apple seeds wherever he went — here’s a good example that’s also something you can print out for the kids to color in. But the reality is that he was much more deliberate than that, although the barefoot piece seems to be accurate during the summer months. Rather than spreading seeds randomly, he created nursuries of trees which were then managed locally. The managers were encouraged to sell trees on credit or barter.
And he definitely lived a subsistance lifestyle with many sources referencing how he would give away most of his clothes and posessions, traveling from house to house telling stories to children in exchange for a place to stay and some food. At this time, the “west” were states like Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan.
At some point in his life he became a minister — which suited his travelling tendencies. But it’s unclear as to whether this shift came after he started planting the seeds or before. One source claims that the seed & tree selling (or bartering) was to support his ministry efforts.
The legend talks about all the good eating apples produced by these trees, but some other sources I found claim that the apples were for making liquor and not for eating. I guess that doesn’t translate well in to a kid’s film. The Straight Dope tries to explain how that transition of focus from liquor to edible might have happened:
We stopped drinking apples and started eating them in the early 1900s. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union publicized the evils of alcohol, the movement towards Prohibition was gaining momentum, and the apple industry saw the need to re-position the apple…We can thank prohibition for shifting the image of the apple to the healthy, wholesome, American-as-apple-pie fruit that it is today.
However that happened, it’s a story that has carried through and had staying power.
There are even rumors that there are some apple trees here in Seattle that come from the same root stock as trees Johnny Appleseed is known to have planted. If anyone has any info about that — please post it in the comments. Would love to know if there are Johnny Appleseed trees in town!
Clearly I’m not going to get to the bottom of this via this blog post, but hopefully this helps shed some light on what the real Johnny Appleseed might have been like.
I’m in the process of researching the orchard history of Seattle. I’m curious to learn more about the ones that still exist, those historic orchards that have long since gone, and new ones sprouting up. Really to understand how all these fruit trees got here in the first place — and now sit in our yards and parks. I plan on blogging about what I find.
The first is Piper Orchard, which is in Carkeek Park. Bob Baines, president of the Friends of Piper Orchard, invited a couple of us from City Fruit to participate in a planning meeting. During that I learned a bit about the history of Piper Orchard. There’s a wealth of information here — and the source of much of what’s below.
Starting with recent history, last year they put on a Festival of Fruit. Here’s a clip if you couldn’t attend:
The Piper family planted it over a century ago after he moved to Seattle in 1874. Andrew W. Piper ran the Puget Sound Candy Factory or a bakery, depending on the source, until it burned down in the Seattle fire. And according to this website, he was also the WA State Chess Champion from 1875-1890. He also ran for mayor and served on the city council — so he was a bit of a busy guy.
Wilhelmina “Minna” Piper is the one thought to have actually planted and cared for the orchard as her husband was away on business a lot. She was always thought of as the gardener. One source that mentions one of the sons, Paul Piper, used to take some of the fruit to sell it at the market. Andrew W. Piper reportedly also used the apples in his pastries — that is, if he was a baker.
The park was bought as part of Carkeek part in 1927.
More recent history starts in 1981 when landscape architect Daphne Lewis discovered the antique fruit trees while making a master-plan survey for restoration of the park. She and a group of volunteers worked for two years to clear away the overgrowth (blackberries, mostly) so that the trees were accessible. They found about 30 apple trees, 2 pears, two cherry, along with a variety of non-fruit trees such as maples and hawthornes.
Currently, the Friends of Piper Orchard partners with the Seattle Parks Department to help look after the trees & fruit within the park. The Friends of Piper’s Orchard also organize monthly work parties that involve everything from pruning, clearing away blackberries, etc.
City Fruit is working with Bob Baines to figure out how we can partner together to help educate tree owners, improve the health of this great resource, and possibly increase the fruit yield that can then benefit those in need in the community.