Fancy pimping your lunch with fresh herbs and salad leaves from an orchard rooted in the heart of Dundee?
Then get down to Slessor Gardens, where Dundee Urban Orchard (also known as DUO) is encouraging everyone to forage in their edible garden and orchard – for free.
When I turn up at the green oasis, DUO founders Jonathan Baxter and Sarah Gittins are hard at work, weeding and planting soft fruit.
They’re keen for volunteers to help out, so I get stuck in with a spade alongside Shonagh Glen and dig in a raspberry bush donated by the James Hutton Institute.
The small-scale orchard is one of 25 across the city, all planted by DUO and their orchard partners in a project which began three years ago and gave Dundee the title of Scotland’s first Orchard City.
The Slessor Gardens orchard is a partnership with Dundee City Council, but DUO also work with community centres, libraries, schools and other cultural organisations and individuals to create what they call the Orchard City network.
The idea behind the project is to raise awareness of “food sustainability” and “food justice”.
“Food poverty is a huge issue in Dundee,” explains Jonathan, as he tends an apple tree, sporting stunning pink and white blossom.
“In an ideal world, there would be no food banks; there’d be more community gardens and orchards like this, so we’re doing what we can to make changes and bring awareness to these problems.
“We define ourselves as an art and horticulture project but we’re trying to support the social and emotional well-being in the city by offering a celebratory response to the local and global problem of food poverty.
“It’s an open invitation to everyone to come here and enjoy the space and when the fruit is ripe, to harvest and eat the produce.”
Three of DUO’s orchards supply fruit and vegetables to food banks, including the Giving Garden project at Menzieshill Parish Church, which grows lots of vegetables and has eight apple trees.
Other sites DUO work with include Ninewells Community Garden, Maxwell Community Garden, Camperdown Wildlife Garden and the “Art-Science Orchard” linking the DCA and Dundee Science Centre.
But Jonathan and Sarah perceive the orchard at Slessor Gardens, planted in June last year, as the “gateway” into the Orchard City.
“It’s the first orchard you might encounter when visiting the city, and it introduces you to a wider network of innovative community projects across the city,” says Jonathan.
“Anyone can come here and enjoy the herbs and fruit free of charge.
“It’s nice for people to come down at lunch time and add some fennel or nasturtiums to their lunch, or maybe take something home for their dinner.”
The orchard boasts a great selection of culinary, medicinal and biodiversity herbs including rosemary, lavender, valerian, lemon balm, chives, thyme, calamint, wild bergamot, fennel, heartsease and hyssop.
There are six apple trees and a soft fruit bed, boasting raspberries and blackberries and also you’ll find green and golden oregano.
“All of the orchard sites are semi-autonomous; everyone involved plants and maintains their own spaces,” explains Jonathan.
“Artists can initiate projects like DUO but genuine participation needs ongoing support – hence we run maintenance and care workshops and promote the project through various art exhibitions and events.”
Dundee is undergoing huge changes culturally, socially and architecturally and DUO have seized the opportunity to question the city’s identity because urban environments can make it easy for people to lose connection with the food they eat.
To younger generations, berry or tattie picking may be an alien concept, but the practice was once a key part of seasonal life locally as well as across Scotland.
Throw in the area’s existing connection to orchards — which originated in the Carse of Gowrie around 800 years ago as part of farms and granges owned by monasteries — and you have a rich heritage of food cultivation upon which to build.
“A large proportion of the food available in Dundee has travelled long distances and is purchased in packaged or processed form from supermarket shelves,” says Sarah.
“When we lose our connection to food, we lose a sense of what sustains us and this effects our care for one another and the planet.”
DUO is funded by Creative Scotland and Forestry Commission Scotland and is maintained by the organisations and volunteers responsible for planting the orchards.
Between March 2013 and June 2016, DUO planted 25 orchards in Dundee.
Each orchard is the responsibility of a designated orchard group.
Together they form the Orchard City network: a community of citizens sharing knowledge, skills and resources, and a public art trail for visitors to enjoy.
For more details, see dundeeurbanorchard.net