Urban orchard looks to bear fruit as healthy alternative

Most people looking for a quick snack as they wander down Leith Walk or Easter Road probably opt for a chippy or a kebab.

But that could change with the planting of a new city centre orchard in a park wedged between the two, which organisers hope will give people the chance to help themselves to a rather healthier snack.

Volunteers from The Friends of Montgomery Street Park and pupils from Leith Walk Primary School will plant 20 apple trees in the park today, creating an urban orchard which they hope passers-by and park users will harvest for themselves.

Friends member Julienne Thurrott said: "Once the fruit starts growing, anyone is just able to come and help themselves to the apples.

"The planting brings people together and then there's the pleasure that people get from fruit trees - they blossom in the spring, people can go and sit under them and have picnics.

"Children will learn that fruit comes from trees and we're hoping to have harvest days. We can have days where we collect the fruit and maybe have a press and make juice. It also reduces food miles, so the food is grown locally and eaten locally."

The project was funded with a 1000 grant from the Leith Decides project, which gave residents the chance to vote on which community schemes should be awarded funding from their Neighbourhood Partnership.

The planting will be supervised by John Hancox, director of the Fruitful Schools project, which helps schools across Scotland plant fruit trees in and around their premises.

He said: "The idea is to try to give kids experience of planting and harvesting stuff that they've grown themselves. Everything always tastes better when you've got your hands dirty and done it yourself.

"In this case, there's also this kind of partnership between a community group and a local school and Leith Decides, which makes it really part of the community.

"The trees are a mixture of varieties, including old Scottish varieties like James Grieve and Charles Ross, and other varieties which grow well in Scotland."

Mr Hancox said the idea of urban planting was not new to the Capital. He said: "The idea that you can grow fruit in the city centre is really exciting.

"It's actually an idea that's got a very long history as well. On medieval maps of Edinburgh, you can see that food-growing and fruit was actually marked on the map, so it's got a very long history. We're keen to get people growing stuff close to where they live and work."

The orchard is just the latest in a string of improvements for the park since the Friends group was established in 2008.

It has held picnics and fun days, planted 3000 crocus bulbs, repainted the park's old police box and drawn up a masterplan for renovations in the future, including the installation of new play equipment and ball court.