By Tom Oder
When a small band of volunteers started the Dunwoody Community Garden several years ago, they believed that one day their efforts would bear fruit.
It’s safe to say, though, that no one expected anything like the ceremony that took place Nov. 9 at the garden’s west-facing slope just past the dog area in Brook Run Park.
Under a cloudless sky and with a fall chill in the air, city representatives including Mayor Mike Davis, several council members, dozens from the Community Garden, Master Gardeners, Dunwoody Garden Club members and other civic boosters such as Alan Mothner, executive director of the Dunwoody Nature Center, celebrated the planting of a fruit orchard the garden won in a nationwide contest in July.
The competition, the Communities Take Root program, was sponsored by Edy’s Fruit Bars and the National Fruit Tree Planting Foundation. This summer, the two groups awarded 17 orchards to community gardens across the country with the goal of beautifying and strengthening communities and encouraging healthy eating habits.
“This is pretty awesome,” said Parks and Recreation Department Manager Brent Walker as he watched the enthusiastic group of gardeners shed coats and dig into the task of planting the orchard while the rising sun began taking the chill out of the morning air. “This is what can happen when people get an idea in their head.”
Nicole Maslanka, recently elected as garden chairperson, had the idea of applying for the contest.
“One of the reasons the Dunwoody garden was selected is because our plan is to offer training modules for orchard and fruit growing to the community,” Maslanka said, “Our members want the garden to play more of an education role. Now that the garden has been selected as a new Master Gardener site, the orchard will allow us to play a bigger role in community education.”
Education is one of the main charges of the Master Gardeners, she explained.
Another part of Maslanka’s plan for the orchard, which she believes is the only orchard that is part of a community garden in Georgia, is that it will also play a role in the charitable life of the community.
While those plans are still coming together, Maslanka said she envisions at least 20 percent of the fruit being donated to charity. Such a donation would be in keeping with the garden’s bylaws that 20 percent of the 92 plots in the vegetable garden area must be devoted to charity.
Maslanka said she expects Dick Langway, a Master Gardener, to head an Orchard Maintenance Committee to manage that process. Master Gardener Karen Converse will head up community education for the other parts of the garden.
Langway will have a few years to formulate the orchard plan.
Rico Montenegro, an arborist with the National Fruit Tree Planting Foundation who supervised the orchard planting, said it will take three to four years before fruit will be harvested from the orchard, which includes 26 trees (11 apples, seven pears, three figs, two plums and one each of pawpaw, persimmon and pomegranate), 10 blueberry bushes and two muscadine vines.
Montenegro, who demonstrated proper planting techniques to the volunteers, said the trees will begin bearing fruit as early as next year. But, he quickly added, for the first few years the fruit will be removed from the trees because the short-term focus will be on pruning to give the trees structure to support mature fruit.
In the meantime, the orchard is already bearing fruit of another kind: community involvement.
“Just look around,” Dunwoody City Councilman Denis Shortal said. “Look at all of these people. It proves that when we build things like this we will be better as a community.”
“Gardens can be fabulous community tools,” City Councilwoman Lynn Deutsch said. “Orchards like this add a level of uniqueness that will last forever.”
Some trees, such as apple trees, can last 200 years, Montenegro said.
“We are planting an orchard today that people we will never know will enjoy,” he said.