Growing Fruit on Neglected Fragments of Urban Land
Brandon Triangle Orchard represents a visionary approach to revitalizing neglected urban property. Sitting on an overlooked fragment of public right-of-way, one of many scattered throughout Seattle, the orchard’s diverse collection of trees and perennial plants yields a high quality harvest with a minimum of inputs.
History: From Overgrown Bramble to Fledgling Orchard
Due to its location between two city streets and a single family home, Brandon Triangle is technically a very large side strip owned by Seattle Department of Transportation. Eager to reclaim this small plot, neighborhood volunteers started clearing the site of invasive blackberry and weed growth in 2010. Since then they have amended soil and planted fruit trees, shrubs, berries and ground cover to create a shared public amenity.
Trees & Site: Permaculture Inspired Perennial Food Oasis
Brandon Triangle Orchard sits on a small plot in a residential neighborhood in south Seattle, wedged between Wilson Avenue as it slices across S. Brandon Street.
Nestling up against a residential house on its third side, the resulting triangle of land was originally a tangled mass of weeds. While the orchard site benefits from a flat topography with good sun exposure and a convenient location, it is challenged by a lack of water and soils that are high in clay and low in organic matter.
Inspired by permaculture principles, orchard stewards selected plantings that would perform well in that site, create a diverse and self-supporting plant community, and eventually provide an abundant harvest of desirable fruits and berries.
The oldest trees on site are the Garry oak and Italian plum trees, both planted in 2010. The majority of trees were planted in 2012 and 2013. Interspersed among the trees are a variety of smaller annuals and perennials.
In total, visitors to the site will see:
- Fruit and nut trees: Santiam filbert, Red Klapps and Bosc European pears, Asian pear, Ekmek quince, Desert King and Brown Turkey figs, Italian plum, and Japanese Shiro plum.
- Ornamentals: Garry oak, dogwood, and corkscrew willow
- Berries: raspberry, fruiting currant, blueberry, strawberry, sea buckthorn
- Perennial edibles: rhubarb, horseradish, sorrel, and Jerusalem artichoke
- Herbs: rosemary, mint, lemon balm, sage, Russian sage, comfrey, salad burnett
- Self re-seeding annuals: garlic, walking onion, chard, mache, kale, sunflower
Orchard Restoration & Development: An ongoing challenge
Until recently, volunteer stewards focused on clearing the site and establishing the plantings. As of 2013, this has been largely completed. While younger trees will require special attention for several years, stewards are shifting gears towards maintaining the plantings and improving the general appearance of the site. In 2013, they created wood chip paths through the orchard to invite in passers-by and started work on landscaping the edges of the site to create a more attractive, park-like appearance.
As orchard stewards anticipate the first fruit harvest from orchard trees in 2014, they also have plans for ongoing improvements. Goals for 2014 include clearing the last areas of weeds and replacing them with attractive and beneficial plantings. Stewards will continue to improve the soil fertility and water retaining capacity by mulching and companion-planting.
1. In 2012, a bat box was erected in the garden on a 20′ post. Bats seek out new nests in early spring after hibernating in large colonies over the winter. A mason bee block was attached to the same post, to encourage our beloved native pollinators to take up near the fruit trees.
2. The gardeners at Brandon Triangle use a technique called “cover cropping” to deter weeds and retain and bind soil nutrients in bare areas over the rainy winter season. Cover cropping with legumes binds nitrogen in the soil, deters other weeds, and is beneficial to pollinating insects. Yellow clover also has the ability to loosen compact clay soils and accumulate potassium and phosphorus.
3. Each year around Earth Day, there is typically work being done at Brandon Triangle as part of the Rainier Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Bridge to Beach Cleanup event.
Prickly Comfrey is popular for its many uses. In the garden: its deep roots are able to penetrate our heavy clay soil, loosening it and accessing nutrients and water in layers not accessible to other plants; the leaves grow prolifically, shading out weeds, and can be cut several times a year as an excellent mulch or compost addition; comfrey leaf extract also makes a great foliar feed; and bumblebees and other pollinators love its flowers. Comfrey leaf and root also have many uses in herbal medicine.
Horseradish, known for the pungent flavor of its root, the perennial horseradish also has benefits in the garden. Like comfrey, its taproots reach deep into the soil, and the leaves suppress weed growth. Additionally, horseradish deters some plant pests, such as potato bugs.
Mache (AKA Corn Salad) is an annual plant, but reseeds itself so easily that is quasi-perennial. It is a delicious salad green and notable for being harvestable throughout winter. When it is allowed to reseed, it creates a lush green carpet that makes it a perfect cover crop.
Sea Buckthorn, while popular in eastern Europe, is little known in the US. Due to its ability to fix nitrogen from the air, it can grow in very poor soil; it is also very tolerant of both drought and frost. In fall, female plants produce orange berries that make a good addition to jams and juices, and are sought after for their extremely high content of anti-oxidants (15 times higher than oranges) and other nutrients. The berries remain on the branch throughout winter, making them a good food source for wildlife.