In the heart of Bridport, nestled away behind St Mary’s Church on South Street, is the Bridport Community Orchard. A second smaller site at the top of Park Road known as Jubilee Green is also part of the Bridport Community Orchard.
The Orchard is a community led project which began life in January 2009 with the planting of 23 half standard apple trees. The second planting, in February 2010, brought the total number of fruit trees to 58. Today there are 47 different named varieties: 35 half standard apple trees, 16 apple cordons, 4 espaliers (1 apple and 3 pears), 2 gage fans, a black mulberry, a quince and added just a few weeks ago a damson tree.
The Orchard acts as a repository for rare and locally successful tree varieties that have survived the test of time and often years of neglect. A list of all the trees in the orchard, plus those at the Jubilee Green orchard, with their uses and origins, can be found here.
The Bridport Community Orchard is so much more than a collection of trees. For the people of Bridport it is a place where they can enjoy peace and tranquility a few steps away from the hustle and bustle of the busy shopping streets, especially on Market Days. Throughout the year people of all ages spend time in the orchard, picnicking, playing games, walking their dogs or simply sitting and chatting and whiling away the time. In the summer months the orchard plays host to group yoga sessions, singing group rehearsal sessions and mental wellbeing sessions led by Harmony.
The Bridport Community Orchard is run on organic principles and the volunteers are keen to encourage native flora and fauna by creating the right conditions for them to flourish. The wild flower meadow area is home to an ever increasing range of plants and is left long to enable the seed to set before it is scythed and the mountain of long grass raked up and removed for composting in order to reduce the fertility of the soil. Nest boxes, a large bug hotel, a bat box and a hibernaculum plus a large wildlife pond, and little piles of twigs tucked away here and there across the site all contribute to making the orchard a safe haven where wildlife can flourish.
As the trees have grown, so has the number of events held in this wonderful outdoor space has increased. The celebratory year begins in January with the Wassail. The custom of wassailing dates back to pagan times and today Wyld Morris lead the singing of the traditional songs followed by storyteller extraordinaire Martin Maudsley who leads the Bridport ceremony in his own unique manner. The newly crowned wassail queen and king lead a parade to a tree, often the oldest in the orchard. When the queen gets there, she dips a piece of bread in some mulled cider which is raised and placed in the boughs of the tree to attract favourable spirits. The crowd then follows suit by pouring mulled cider at the base and placing a piece of bread into the branches of all the the other trees. Meanwhile, evil spirits are scared away with loud noises – sticks and other devices banged together by the crowd. All in all it is great fun as the images below show.
The coming of the blossom is celebrated at Mayfest which this year will take place on, Monday May 2nd. Live entertainment and a range of other activities, yet to be finalised, will what the volunteers hope will seBridport communitye a return to the fun and enjoyment of pre covid days.
Apple Day, which this year is scheduled to take place on a date to be finalised, in October is another celebratory highlight of the orchard year. Sadly, it has not been able to be held for the past two years due to the covid pandemic but the volunteers are keen to host an event this year. As to what form it will take, all I can tell you that it will have to be slightly different because the trees have continued growing and as a consequence the space available has decreased. Look out for notification of the apple juicing sessions which will be taking place in the orchard during August, September and October to which it is hoped members of the public will be able to come along to and get stuck in.
Adjacent to the Community Orchard is the Community Allotments. The plots range in size from 1 yard square raised beds to half sized allotment plots and a 20 * 8 foot poly tunnel. The allotment group, led by Jenn Baker, meet every Thursday during the growing season and once a month during the winter. The aim of the sessions is to support and encourage those new to growing fruit and vegetables reap the rewards of harvesting and eating their own and shared produce. Yum.
All of this does not happen by magic and it is thanks to the support of Bridport Town Council and the Orchard Volunteers that the site has become such a special and much loved place enjoyed by people of all ages from across Bridport and our many visitors from further afield.
No prior knowledge of managing an orchard or green space is required if you would like to become a volunteer. The friendly volunteers will make you welcome and guide and support you. As the seasons change the tasks that need to be carried out change and part of the joy of being an orchard volunteer is becoming more closely immersed with that natural ebb and flow. Click to find out when the work sessions and events are scheduled to take place during 2022.
And Finally – another plug for the Mayors Charity Concert.
Book early to ensure you get the seat you want.