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The orchard that wasn’t

Tree planting project of the Wirral Home Education Roots & Shoots group

Our group, consisting of home educating parents and their children could not have been happier for being chosen by Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots for its tree planting funding from Disney. The brainstorming process of choosing and the planning the project was fun and educational. After much debate we had decided to plant an orchard! We considered this a real Roots & Shoots project as:

– it helped animals by providing shelter and food,

– the environment by removing CO2 from the air, and

– the human community by creating a place to gather, marvel at the development of the trees and, ultimately, harvest the fruit of our labour.

In consultation with the Cheshire West and Chester council we chose a wonderful spot in a residential area, close to one of our members’ home. The council also pointed us to a local apple sapling grower specialising in traditional breeds. Katie helped us choosing eight apple trees of different varieties and also two pear trees and told us the ins and outs of tree care. We were ready and eager to plant!

The planting

Ahead of the day we had also bought stakes and ties to keep the saplings safe from the wind. On a chilly but bright early March day we set off to meet council workers who had kindly dug ten holes for us in our chosen area. The children split into groups and, as instructed placed the trees in the holes and gently but firmly covered their roots with soil.

Local residents that passed by stopped to chat with us and were delighted to see the happy faces of the children and to learn that in a few years time they may be able to pick fruit in this community orchard.


The council workers were asked that when they are mowing the lawn around the apple trees they are exceptionally careful. On Katie’s advice we double and triple checked that this was going to happen and in the end it was agreed that the grass wouldn’t be mowed in a circle where the saplings were planted.

Once spring kicked in the saplings started budding and developing leaves. Some even flowered which the children were delighted to see! We were instructed to water the trees in times of dry spells in their first couple of years but in the end this wasn’t necessary. A dry spell is a rare phenomenon in the North West! So all we did was marvelling at the saplings as they steadily grew throughout the year.

The disaster

Katie told us to prune the trees mid-winter, before the growing season starts. She recommended pruning them at the height of about 4ft but as the sapling didn’t reach this we contacted her for advice. When she heard the address it turned out that she grew up on the very street the orchard was planted! She happily agreed to meet us the following day to see if we can prune the trees. But it was not to be. Katie received our message the following morning:

“I went past the trees and you needn’t come because all but two are gone!”

On the very night before the trees was due to be pruned they got vandalized. All but two were viciously broken in half. We were devastated. The children didn’t understand what had happened. Katie came nevertheless to have a look and see if she can save the trees. She had never experienced anything like this before.

Human kindness

Seeing our devastation Katie wanted to help: she offered to give us a few replacement trees free of charge. Her kindness was exceptional, we couldn’t be grateful enough. As a thank you we baked her an apple pie (hoping she wasn’t sick of eating apples) which was received with equal gratitude to us. From business relationship a friendship was formed.

The orchard that wasn’t meant to be

Within two weeks two of the new trees were broken in half. Even though the place of the orchard was chosen for it being in a safe pocket in an affluent area, ill meaning people still found it. They robbed the community from what it could have been a place to gather, animals from shelter and food and the environment from a little extra oxygen in the air.

Ray of hope

In agreement with Katie and our group, we dug up the remaining four trees and one of our members took them to their allotment for them to grow. Although we won’t have a community orchard, the trees are safe for our group to enjoy and for animals and the environment to take from it as they need.


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