A Community Tennis Center Graced with an Urban Orchard
Rushing toward the upper courts for an after-work match, tennis players at the Amy Yee Tennis Center might be surprised to glance up and find themselves surrounded by one of Seattle’s emerging new urban orchards. This hidden orchard shares an 8.5 acre site with the Center’s 10 indoor and 6 outdoor tennis courts. Completed in 1977 and operated by Seattle Parks and Recreation, the tennis center was named in honor of Seattle tennis star and south Seattle resident, Amy Yee.
Amy Yee (1922-2000) grew up on a Vashon Island farm and brought a love of gardening, flowers and vegetables with her when she relocated to a home on Seattle’s Beacon Hill. A tennis star and an inspirational teacher, Yee offered free tennis clinics at schools and public parks for more than 30 years. Her students ranged from young people to adults and included two future mayors of Seattle.
On August 28, 2002, two years and two weeks after Yee’s death, Seattle Parks and Recreation named the tennis center after Amy Yee to celebrate the life and accomplishments of the local athlete and teacher.
The tennis center and orchard are located on the northeast corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Way S. and S. Walker Street in the heart of south Seattle and across the street from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Park. The property steps up the hill in two large terraces. The indoor tennis facility and parking lot are located on the lower terrace of land bordering Martin Luther King Jr. Way S. The large upper terrace to the east of the indoor center contains the outdoor courts and an open field. Orchard trees are scattered throughout the site.
There are 30 fruit trees on the property. Most are apple, but there are also pear trees and a quince graft. These fruit trees can be found along the east side of the parking lot, on the upper terrace both north and south of the outdoor courts and on the steep slopes between the two terraces. While some of the trees are the remnants of historic orchards, others are seedlings. Most of the varieties have not yet been identified.
Orchard Restoration & Development: An ongoing challenge
Until 2009 most of the trees were unrecognizable as fruit trees, so buried were they in blackberry bushes, Scotch Broom and other invasive understory plants. To reclaim the trees as a valuable park asset, Don Ricks, a volunteer steward, worked with Solid Ground, Seattle Parks and Recreation staff, and volunteers from the YMCA Center for Young Adults and PopCap Games. This broad mix of volunteers removed invasive plants, mulched and pruned the trees, and harvested the fruit. City Fruit joined the effort in 2012, recruiting and training other expert stewards and organizing work parties.
As invasive plants were removed and the site was cleared, more fruit trees were discovered. In 2012 and 2013, grafting was done on a number of trees to introduce better quality fruit varieties, including Hudson’s Golden Gem, Liberty, and quince. Edible fruit harvested at the site was donated to the Rainier Valley Food Bank.
In 2014, work will continue around all the fruit trees to clear the understory of invasive plants including Himalayan blackberry, English ivy, Scotch Broom, and wild clematis. Trees will be pruned as needed to encourage a healthy crop of fruit. Fruit varieties will be identified when possible, and in all cases the fruit produced will be quantified and classified for food quality, identifying those that are good for eating, good for cider, or not edible.
Neighbors and tennis center users will be encouraged to participate in orchard maintenance with a goal of at least three large work parties during 2014. The first took place on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. In addition, bi-monthly work parties with a smaller group of core stewards will prune and thin the trees and manage orchard pests.
To raise community awareness, educational materials and signage will be developed for the orchard. The major community event planned for the year is a fresh cider pressing celebration in the fall of 2014.
Selecting the button below will pop up an email window, pre-addressed so that you can easily contact the site leader. Introduce yourself and let them know what kind of volunteering you’re interested in. We would love to have your help!