Interesting Fruit Trees of Lawrence Public Library

This month Dan Coleman and I have put together a slightly different "Interesting Tree" blog than our previous arboricultural collaborations. Not because we've run out of interesting trees to go look at, but because the trees are coming to us! Yes, Lawrence Public Library will soon be home to our (your!) own orchard! 

And YOU can help plant it! Don't you feel like breaking out in song? Well, you're in luck...

Way back in the before times, Skyler Adamson, head of the Lawrence Fruit Tree Project and the Community Orchard, suggested that the library might be a good spot to plant some fruit trees. Last year, he and former LPL librarian/current geography grad student Hazlett Henderson got together with songstress Lyndsey Scott and submitted a Rocket Grant proposal to make it happen. Which they won. Here's the summary:

"The Fruit Tree Community Choir celebrates the planting of community fruit trees around the Lawrence Public Library, accompanied by collective song. The primary artistic medium for this project is music, but artists Skyler Adamson and Hazlett Henderson also emphasize the role that trees play in the visual landscape as orchards, elements of architecture, and garden structures."

On Saturday, April 6, Lawrence Public Library will become a node in a growing network of community fruit trees. We asked Skyler and Hazlett to provide a little more background, and Dan and I have recommended a few tree books for young and old.

LPL  Whose idea was this anyways?

SA  I’m not sure who can claim it as their original idea… but the Fruit Tree Community Choir came about after I approached Hazlett (who is knowledgeable in ways that I am not) to help conceive of a way to enhance an orchard planting experience, so as to make it rich with meaning and memory for maximum community engagement. How can we make the profound act of planting a tree a more explicitly sacred act and accessible to a wider audience? How can we bring the community into the commons to enhance its common good? That was how it got started.

Tell us about the Lawrence Fruit Tree Project and the Community Orchard

SA  Lawrence Fruit Tree Project got started in 2008. I had wanted to see a project in Lawrence that emulated fruit tree projects I was seeing in other American cities. Eric Farnsworth, Byron Wiley, Jason Herring, Kate Head, and others have been integral to co-creating LFTP. Since 2015 LFTP has been a program of the Sunrise Project.

Lawrence Community Orchard is located at 830 Garfield Street in East Lawrence. It’s our flagship orchard, open to the public and maintained by volunteers. LFTP continues to help community partners plant orchards, provide educational resources, and act as an advocate for a fruit tree abundant cityscape.

What is the connection between fruit trees and music, and what gave you the idea to combine the two?  

HH  I think Skyler described the music component really well in response to the first question -- we were wondering how we could imbue the planting of these fruit trees into the vibrant public commons that already exists around 7th and Vermont with a sense of gravity (but also silliness). We want people to feel like they belong to these fruit trees, and also like the fruit trees belong to them, and we thought singing collectively to them might help inspire that sense of belonging in place. We also talked about positioning the trees as audience to our song, which comes more or less directly from 'post-humanist' ideas in academic literature. How do we build close bonds with these trees, each other, and the places we inhabit together?

The idea for this event really came out of these ideas -- we didn't draw on a specific tradition of fruit tree-music connection in crafting it. We've been working on this project for coming up on a year though, and it's been cool to notice other ways people have historically heralded / continue to herald the passage of time and changing of seasons with song (during the winter I was in particular noticing caroling and vespers). 

Can you give us a run-down of the trees to be planted at the library, please?

SA  Hybrid persimmon, Diospyros kaki x virginiana

These are a cross between American and Asian persimmon. They’re naturally small trees with bright red-orange globe-like fruits that ripen very late in the fall, sometimes requiring ripening indoors post-harvest. The ripe fruit is soft, translucent, and as sweet as nectar. 

Asian pear, Pyrus pyrifolia

Asian pears are usually round, green to brown, firm, crisp, and sweet. The fruit is best eaten fresh or in salad. Its texture is nothing like a European pear.  Ripening time varies, but late August through September is typical. The trees are precocious and can be expected to make fruit within a couple years so long as the tree is putting on good vegetative growth. 

Serviceberry, Amelanchier laevis 

Serviceberry can grow as a small tree or more commonly as a multi-stemmed shrub. The sweet, flavorful fruit is eaten whole (the soft seeds taste like almond!). It’s superficially reminiscent of a small blueberry. Also known as Juneberry because of its June ripening. 

Jujube, Ziziphus jujuba 

Jujubes are tough trees that produce prodigious amounts of one to two inch fruits that are crispy and super sweet. Imagine a little apple with no acidity and low water content. When dried or candied they’re similar to a date palm in flavor and texture. 

How did you pick the species?

SA  My criteria for planting anywhere is that the tree is low maintenance, but in a high traffic, high visibility area like the public library the standards are higher. I selected species and varieties that produce very little fruit mess if left unharvested. Low insect pest pressure is important, as I want fruits to be aesthetically appetizing. I selected trees that had high resistance to fungal or bacterial diseases, so that the trees are long lived, healthy, and look good for years to come. Precocity is important so we get that turn around on investment sooner rather than later.  I also wanted the harvest to be spread out, which isn’t always easy because so many of our best fruit crops are fall ripening. And of course I selected for fun and delicious fruits that people are going to love to eat!

Which one(s) would you recommend as yard trees?

SA  My tip for the prospective grower is to learn from other people’s mistakes as much as you can. Productive trees are a long-term investment. If all your trees get badly girdled by rabbits in the 3rd year because they weren’t protected, you're out three years. On the other hand, first-hand failure will be an indelible kind of learning, and is super valuable too. 

I’m quite partial to jujubes because of their June blooms that avoid late frost, tendency to bear fruit in year one, tolerance of extreme heat and drought, and they have virtually no pests or diseases. The fruit is fun to eat, crispy sweet with a smidge of juice. They’re easily stored dehydrated or candied. Asian pears also have pretty instant gratification because they’ll make large amounts of fruit at an early age.

HH  I just had jujubes and persimmons for the first time last year! So I'm excited to eat more, especially towards the end of this decade when we'd expect the library trees to be bearing fruit.

SA There’s a lot of great species and varieties of fruit trees I’d recommend for the backyard grower. My advice is to plant what other people are having success with, because there’s a big time investment in growing trees. Growing trees unfit for our climate or disease pressures will be an uphill battle.

What are your favorite books about trees, especially fruit trees?

SA  Lee Reich’s book Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden is a must read for the prospective backyard grower. It gives an introduction and details about dozens of fruit-bearing trees and shrubs, many of which you may have never heard about.

HH  I was affected by Peter Wohlleben's The Hidden Life of Trees when I read it years ago. Part of this project is about extending ideas of personhood to non-human beings, and Wohlleben's book does that too in a scientifically-grounded way. The books that really inspired this project are probably Ross Gay's The Book of Delights and Robin Wall Kimmerer's Braiding Sweetgrass.

DC  Speaking of Peter Wohlleben and Robin Wall Kimmerer, we have versions of their books adapted for young people, including several titles by Wohlleben and Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults, by Kimmerer. Children’s books about trees break down into several main categories, and here are some of the best examples of each.

Our Tree Named Steve, a story by Alan Zweibel, illustrated by David Catrow, is among the best examples of a picture book about a beloved tree. Zweibel writes 

the tale in the form of a letter to his kids letting them know of the death of the huge tree in their front yard, which had served the family in so many ways over

the years, as a shade tree, a holder of swings and clotheslines, or third base in yard baseball games, just to name a few. The book is a testament to human

connections with individual trees, and how their loss can sometimes hit as hard as that of a pet.

The Tree Book, by Gina Ingoglia is a great example of a straight-up guidebook written for kids, with clear illustrations and descriptions of 33 common North

American trees. Books about people who dedicate their lives to planting trees (think Wangari Maathai, or even all the way back to Johnny Appleseed) are

another popular type of children’s book. One of my favorites in the genre is The Tree Lady, by H. Joseph Hopkins, a non-fiction account of the life of Katharine

Olivia Sessions, whose tree planting obsession in San Diego resulted in the living legacy of Balboa Park. And finally there are the books about famous individual 

trees, one of the best of which is the compendium by Margi Preus, Celebritrees. This book contains brief “biographies” of trees like Methuselah, the 4000-year

old bristlecone pine which may be the oldest living thing on Earth, and the Major Oak, under which Robin Hood and his associates met in Sherwood Forest.

JV  So many great tree books! I’ll recommend just a few more, focusing on the evolving concept of “tree” that includes the living networks that trees are part of:

James Nardi’s The Hidden Company That Trees Keep is not only full of trees and said company (birds and bugs, fungi and microbes, and more), but it’s beautifully illustrated. An expansive and eye-opening arbo-ecology.

David Haskell, The Songs of Trees. The acclaimed biologist and writer of the Southeast examines tree communities, whether urban or rural, individual or forest, old-growth or sapling. From the jacket: "He reminds us that life’s substance and beauty emerge from relationship and interdependence."

And perhaps more to the focus of this blog post and the event it celebrates, Michael Phillips’ Holistic Orcharding, available as a DVD at LPL, layers soil and fungi on to the previous titles to fill out our view of organisms usually thought of as individuals, applying the lessons we're learning from books like these to a human-managed arboreal ecosystem - an orchard.

Please come join us on April 6 at noon (April 7 rain date), to join the Fruit Tree Choir and to help establish the library's orchard!

-Jake Vail is an Information Services Assistant and Dan Coleman is a Collection Development Librarian at Lawrence Public Library.