By Kathryn Pankowski

Allow me to introduce our newest James Bay residents: Liberty, Honeycrisp, and Red Gravenstein. They may sound like heroic resistance fighters in some action-adventure film, but are really three small and well-behaved apple trees, planted in Todd Parkette on Feb 1.

What’s so special about them? Well, they are the first trees to be planted anywhere in the City of Victoria under the Food Tree Stewardship Program.

“And what is this Food Tree Stewardship Program?” you ask. (I’m sure I heard you.) It’s a new program that allows groups of residents to get together and apply to plant a few fruit or nut trees in a city park. The residents buy the trees and agree to look after them (including picking up fallen fruit), the city approves the location and supervises the planting, and the general public gets to pick and eat the produce.

Getting our new trees in the ground took a cooperative community effort. The JBNA got preliminary clearance for the location and put out a call for people who might like to be stewards. Eight people volunteered to look after the trees: two live in the immediate vicinity, while most of the others have a plot in one of the nearby allotments and would like to expand their gardening to include tree fruit.

We dropped off letters or called all the neighbours who had a view of the proposed site and asked for support, concerns, or objections – and got nothing but support.

The food tree stewards and city staff dig holes for the new apple trees in Todd Parkette. Photo by Kathryn Pankowski

Then there was a call for donors to fund the project. The James Bay Market Society very kindly offered to cover the full cost of the trees as a thank-you gift to Pat McGuire, who is stepping down after years of organizing Seedy Saturday and other events for the market. Pat lives nearby and has been a long-time advocate for growing more food locally.

This story gets even better. Suddenly, we found ourselves with two donors, both of whom were willing to fund the whole project. (This is the kind of problem it’s good to have!) Fortunately, generous James Bay resident Trevor Moat agreed to let us “bank” his donation for the next neighbourhood tree planting project.

Lots of other people helped. A neighbour offered to supply water for the trees. The owner of Le Coteau Nursery, where we bought the apples, drove them to James Bay the night before planting and ‘hid’ them in his back garden overnight for handy pick-up. JBNA Garden Committee members picked up various bits of planting paraphernalia and stored them until needed. The City arborists marked out the planting spots and showed us how to plant a tree to city standards.

Huge thanks to all of you. Three small apple trees aren’t going to save the world, but perhaps they are a step in the right direction, providing blossom in spring, shade and air filtering in summer, fruit in the fall, and roots to slow the runoff from winter rains. Maybe they are heroes in their own quiet way.

Now all we need to do is figure out how to throw a proper Wassail party.

If all this chat about apples is making you want to grow one, there are options for small urban gardens. You can get apple trees grafted onto dwarfing rootstock, so that they grow to shrub rather than tree size. Or you can espalier your apple, training it to grow flat, either against a fence or wall or as a freestanding garden screen. (South Park School is growing an espaliered apple near the main Michigan Street door.) If you have a tall but narrow space, try cordons, where the trees are kept shaped to a narrow column. For the opposite problem, there are “step over” apples, kept below knee level and running along the edge of a path or raised bed.

Kathryn Pankowski is the James Bay Neighbourhood Association Neighbourhood Gardening Advocate: she can be reached at jamesbaygardens@gmail.com. The JBNA would like to acknowledge the financial support of the City of Victoria for this initiative.