The Dwarf Orchard
Just about everything regarding the Dwarf Orchard (anyone else find that name just plain funny?) is a tangled mess. If only it was just the weeds.
It’s history is hardly straightforward. It started out as a nice (much larger, by the sound of it) orchard that once belonged to Anne of Denmark (I vaguely remember it, alongside the Queen’s House, being a ‘Sorry I got angry, Pumpkin,’ gift from her husband James I after he shouted at her for accidentally killing his favourite dog. We’ve all been there…) The man in charge was William Boreman, who was, BTW, responsible for the planting of the ancient chestnut trees we’re all so concerned about just now, and by all accounts it was A Bit Nice.
It had roundy flowerbeds, a water feature (wonder if it was Charles I’s comedy fountain…) proper paths and a mound with a black mulberry – the cutting-edge tree du jour at the time. They stuck a fence around it to stop the deer chomping the flowers and it was all very bijou.
It was given to Greenwich Hospital in 1707 – for use as a graveyard, but the Admiralty just couldn’t resist the lure of development. I’m guessing that the result is the houses along the side of the Park up Maze Hill these days, which would have made the Orchard much bigger then than it is now. The article I read tactfully says that after WWII, when it was used as allotments, it ” reverted through ‘natural regeneration’ towards bramble, scrub and sycamore woodland.” That translates as “it’s been totally neglected.”
Well. Not quite. There have been some attempts to get this poor relation of Greenwich Park back to some kind of order. The council, who bought it in 1976, seems to have been a bit of a low point.
They leased it to Greenwich Environment Forum, which was quite enthusiastic at first, but slowly dwindled to one person, and the politics moved in. An acre of heavy weeds is an awful lot for one person to handle, and it all went very pear-shaped. I don’t know all the details, which is probably a good thing.
After 30 years of campaigning, the orchard was returned to the park by Greenwich Council in 2007 (in what, on paper at least, sounds like an very silly ceremony) but by the point of the formal handover (April 2008) the wildlife had already settled in for the summer. Then they discovered the dreaded Japanese Knotweed – which needs the intensity of treatment reserved for rabies and bird ‘flu.
So – what now? Well, it’s finally ready to start being cleared. The brambles, nettles, ash – and those sodding sycamores (my own personal bete-noire) – have to go. The plan is to clear it out, find out exactly what’s underneath, then try to restore what once was – the sweetness of miniature fruit trees, the buzzing of beehives and all-round general loveliness.
And you can help. Between Jan 19th – 21st, a three-day intensive gardening project is going on. The perfect opportunity to poke around part of Greenwich’s history and work off a few of those Christmas pounds at the same time with the British Trust Conservation Volunteers. If you’re interested, give Warren Young a call on 07740 899 614 or email him at W.Young@btcv.org.uk