by Roger Grant, ASLA, PLA
A Case Study in Community Orchard-Playground Design
In Suwanee, a small suburb north of Atlanta, Georgia, lies a one-acre public park combining edible fruiting plants with child-friendly play features. Suwanee has a small but popular parks network that includes a seven-acre site with an organically maintained community garden, stream, trails, and a lawn that was a former pasture. In 2012, a local landscape architect met with City staff to discuss the potential to convert the former pasture area into a new kind of park for the City—an “orchard-playground.” The concept was intended to combine the enjoyment of edible fruit with play features rooted in the natural playground movement. After several years of both volunteer- and employer-supported efforts, the City approved a final design, and the Orchard at White Street Park was constructed and officially opened in the fall of 2017.
The notion of a public orchard where fruit is grown for free harvest by the community is a logical extension of the community gardening movement that is increasingly being explored throughout the country. During the design process, there was little information regarding public orchards, but as of now, there are numerous efforts in Georgia and around the US. Some go by the name of “food forest,” which can be a combination of orchard and annual fruit and vegetable growing, and some follow the concept of “permaculture,” which relies on dynamic and symbiotic relationships between edible plants and their allies to develop a long lasting and self-sustaining harvest. While these concepts were explored during the design process, the planting design was simplified for the initial phase based on available budget and anticipated maintenance capacity. Thus, the outcome was creation of a combination of pathways, benches, fences, play features, lawn areas, and mulched fruit tree, shrub, and vine areas.