Roy Walker of South Beds Friends of the Earth was the leading force in setting up on the orchard and leads on all its activities. Here is his account of the early years of the orchard:
“The idea for a community orchard started at a South Beds Friends of the Earth meeting in March 2011 and grew to become the Astral Park Community Orchard when the fruit trees were planted in December 2011 with the help of volunteers, of all ages, from local residents. This is probably the first orchard to be planted in Leighton Buzzard for generations.
The principal aims of Astral Park Community Orchard are to provide an environmental asset that is accessible to the community at all times, revive an interest in fruit growing, conserve local varieties, provide a refuge for wildlife and be a venue for education about the environment, nature and food – and also a nice place to be!!
The orchard is located on scrub land at the end of Middleton Way on the edge of Astral Park, adjoining Stanbridge Meadows. The land was provided by Leighton Linslade Town Council and with funding from the Greensand Trust we were able buy the fruit trees and equipment. The trees were supplied by the Heritage Fruit Tree Company who have been very helpful with advice on planning, planting and orchard maintenance.
We have planted 14 varieties of fruit trees (see the orchard site plan) with overlapping blossoming times, that is more beneficial to bees, gives a longer harvesting period and variety of flavours.
At the ‘entrance’ from Astral Park there are two Black Worcester pear trees, a historic variety that will grow to be tall prominent feature trees that can live for 300 years!!
We have three trees planted in celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012 – two Royal Jubilee apple trees that were grafted from the root stock of an apple variety grown for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and a Jubilee Plum.
Local varieties planted include:-
Aylesbury Prune, a damson, that used to be extensively grown in the area for jam making, and the skins apparently used to dye RAF uniforms in WWII and hats in the Luton hat trade.
Bedfordshire apple trees planted include one each of Laxtons Rearguard, Laxtons Fortune, Laxtons Superb, Laxtons Epicure and Court of Wick providing a variety of apple flavours.
We also have a Beauty of Bath, known as ‘the scrumping apple’ as it is in season during school summer holidays before most other apples. Hopefully in a few years time children (and adults) will again have the pleasure of picking and eating an apple straight from the tree rather from a pre-packed supermarket bag!!!
We also have two other apple trees – an Allington Pippin and an Annie Elizabeth.