An orchard grows in Chimborazo Park

December 12, 2012 · 3 minute read

Richmond Tree Steward Heather Holub wrote this piece for the group’s newsletter. It tells the story of a group of tree-loving neighbors coming together to create an orchard in a city park. Very cool stuff.

Chimborazo park. Credit: Phil Riggan,

Visions for a large-scale planting of fruit and nut trees and shrubs in Chimborazo Park have been realized! On November 4th and 11th volunteers from the Richmond Tree Stewards, students from VCU and University of Richmond, members of Transition Richmond, neighbors and even passing dog-walkers helped to plant over 200 fruit and nut trees and shrubs on the southern slopes of Chimborazo Park.

Chimborazo Park is a beautiful formal park in Richmond’s Church Hill neighborhood. A bird’s eye view of Richmond reveals that Chimborazo Park echoes the elegant paved rotaries and diagonal pathways of the grounds of the Capitol. Monroe Park, along a diagonal axis generally following Broad Street, mirrors the same patterns to the northwest. The three equidistant spaces visually knit Richmond’s Fan District, Downtown, and East End together. Chimborazo Park has a rich history and affords beautiful views of the James River and hills to the east. In recent years, however, the western and southern slopes of the park have been subject to great damage resulting from hurricanes and subsequent erosion. Old cobblestone paths have been washed out, topsoil has washed away, and invasive species have moved in. Trash gets dumped in the adjacent woods. The slopes are now largely covered with Tree-of-Heaven, Poison Ivy, English Ivy and other plants which are cut back annually by the city. Although these invasive plants are helping to stabilize the hillside somewhat, they are taking the place of native plants that would provide food and habitat for our native wildlife. 

Tree steward and Church Hill resident, Jan Thomas, has spearheaded an effort to improve this area with her vision to plant native and non-native, fruit, nut and habitat trees and shrubs. In discussion and cooperation with the City Parks Department, Friends of Chimborazo Park (led by John Clay), east end arborist Mike Mather, tree stewards Louise Seals and Suzette Lyon, and with assistance from myself, Heather Holub, (also a tree steward and Church Hill resident), Jan has built support, obtained funding and sources for plants, and generally planned this project. The majority of the funding comes from a grant from the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay intended for groups who would plant trees in the Chesapeake Watershed. This location offers an excellent opportunity to have a positive impact on our watershed. The slopes of Chimborazo Park direct stormwater runoff into the polluted Gillies Creek which in turn drains into the James River. According to Tree City USA Bulletin No. 55 “…the leaves and bark of a tree retain a huge amount of water, allowing some of it to evaporate and some to more slowly reach the ground. Depending on size and species, a single tree may store 100 gallons or more…”  The trees planted in this area will act as a filter for the James River, helping keep pet waste, fertilizers, motor oil, and other contaminants out of the river.

The majority of the plants have been purchased from Edible Landscaping, a good number are from the Department of Forestry, and still others have been donated by private individuals. Native species include Paw Paws, Chinquapin, American Plum, Black Cherry, Red Mulberry, Persimmon, Pecan, Blueberry and Filbert. Some of the non-native species are Apples, Peaches, Pears, Figs, and Almonds. In our explorations of the site we have identified a few edible native plants in amongst the ivy and Tree-of-Heaven such as Elderberries, Blackberries, and Passion Fruit. Part of our mission is to clear invasives away from these already existing edible plants to give them a better chance to thrive. In addition to helping to prevent erosion, improving the watershed, and providing food for wildlife, these new trees and shrubs will allow park visitors to learn about and taste some of our lesser known native fruits and nuts. 

The work isn’t over yet. This project offers an exciting opportunity for people to help maintain a unique ‘orchard’ in a city park that will provide sustenance and delight to wildlife and Richmonders for generations to come. Join us on the first Sundays of the month, beginning in January, from 1-4 p.m. as we tend to these baby trees. Meet near Chimborazo’s Bark Park.