London's (Con)Temporary Orchards

London's (Con)Temporary Orchards
Published: Jul 02, 2013
LONDON: A pair of pop-up orchards are gracing the city this summer, but they're not the only projects seeking to introduce edible plants into urban environments.

Not one but two temporary orchards have sprouted up on the streets of London this summer. The first, on the banks of the Thames, was unveiled at the tail-end of May as part of the Southbank Centre's Festival of Neighbourhood and was produced  in collaboration with the National Trust. The second, over in the Square Mile, comes as part of the City of London Festival, a series of events that includes classical music, lectures and even a children's parade. Both feature a variety of apples, plums and pears – a welcome addition to the city's otherwise predominantly inedible plantings.

Each of the 2013 projects have been produced by different architecture practices. On the Southbank, Octavia's Orchard (named after National Trust founder Octavia Hill) is the work of What If: Projects, and consists of 35 galvanised bins [pictured above] – the same type found on council estates across the capital – which have then been planted with fruit trees and meadow flowers and supplemented by simple wooden seating.

Meanwhile, moving around the City of London – the heart of the capital's financial district – throughout June and July is Mobile Orchard [pictured below]. The work of Atmos, who jWC readers may recall as the brains behind the vast, multi-stratified Worldscape table that has graced both Global Feast and LimeWharf, Mobile Orchard has a similar layered-up, organo-futurist aesthetic and the same lofty ambition in terms of scale and interaction.

Both projects share a desire to alert visitors to the decline in British orchards over the past half century or so (the National Trust has estimated that more than 60% of traditional orchards have been lost since the 1950s) and to do so with a sense of style and fun.

But in drawing attention to such issues, these projects do also draw attention to the organisations that funded them. The Festival of Neighbourhood is sponsored by Mastercard who have a long history of alleged price-fixing and, infamously, blocked payments to Wikileaks in retaliation for accusations of illegal activity. The Southbank Centre itself is sponsored by Shell, who may have “paused” their Arctic drilling programme but continue to be active in the area. The City of London Festival, meanwhile, is run by the “medieval” and “unaccountable” City of London Corporation – that strange, archaic institution that transcends the authority of the country's democratically elected parliament and, arguably, stands in the way of effective regulation of global finance. The Corporation does, however, maintain around 10,000 acres of green spaces – mainly conservation areas and nature reserves – in Greater London and the surrounding counties.

On the plus side, whilst both projects are only temporary, from each will sprout something more long-lasting. The trees from Octavia's Orchard, for example, will be adopted by local council housing estates and twinned with the horticultural expertise of four National Trust properties, whilst twelve of those from the Mobile Orchard will be planted on Middlesex Street Estate in the City and the rest distributed to schools across London.

Both initiatives are reminiscent of the well-received Union Street Urban Orchard that ran throughout the summer of 2012 as part of London Festival of Architecture, and The London Orchard Project – a community-led initiative which has been restoring old orchards and planting new ones in unused spaces across the capital since 2009. Meanwhile, over in Amsterdam, as part of a project entitled Guerrilla Grafting [pictured above], contemporary artist Theun Karelse has been 'hacking' plants in public spaces by grafting on scoins (cuttings) from home-grown apples and medlars, turning merely decorative species into free providers of delicious fruits.


Octavia's Orchard is on Festival Terrace at the South Bank until 8th September 2013.

Mobile Orchard is in various locations in the City of London until 26th July 2013.

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