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Open Orchards


The goal of the Open Orchard project is to get a diverse range of old varieties of healthy heritage fruit trees back into our Southland communities.

This is important for the following reasons:

  • Preservation of varieties (many old varieties have greater resistance to pests
    and diseases, so don't need all of the sprays that some modern varieties require);

  • Preservation of skills, such as pruning and grafting;

  • Access to healthy locally grown food;

  • Preservation of our heritage.

To date this project has led to more than 80 heritage varieties being identified and more than 7,000 fruit trees being planted in Southland.

We have achieved this by:

  • Visiting old Southland orchards (more than 35 so far), most of them planted between 1850-1910, and taking cuttings (funded by Sustainable Farming Fund 2008-2011);

  • Grafting collected scion wood onto rootstock and duplicating trees which grow well in Southland;

  • Mapping, photographing and sampling, and working with international experts to identify varieties based on 45 different characteristics;

  • Teaching people how to prune, graft, and plant fruit trees through workshops and educational material; 

  • Helping advise on and set up orchards in schools (22 in Southland so far!);

  • Holding our Annual Fruit Tree Sale to raise funds and get more people planting;

  • Establishing 15 Heritage Orchard Parks across Southland (and counting!);

  • Collecting and sending scion wood all over NZ to be grafted (You can make an order by emailing

The next steps in this project include:

  • Establishing more Heritage Orchard Parks throughout Southland. We are always looking for suitable public land and keen community members;

  • Researching and sharing the stories and photos of the old orchards;

  • Finding funding to help us identify another 400 varieties we have not yet identified (about a year's work!);

  • Helping other environment centres around New Zealand run similar projects.

We have developed an information-rich 44 page 'Open Orchard' handbook. Order yours now from our online Shop.

Topics covered include:

  • how to choose, plant and care for fruit trees,

  • how to manage pests and diseases organically,

  • how to prune, take cuttings and graft your own fruit trees.

This handbook is a collection of what we have learned over the last 30 years growing and saving heritage fruit trees in Southland. It will give anyone wanting to grow their own fruit a head start, wherever they live in NZ. Money raised through sales helps us put signage up at Heritage Orchard Parks in Southland. 

Open Orchards

You can hear interviews about the Open Orchard project on RNZ National!

Buy Fruit Trees And Scion Wood

Buy Fruit Trees and Scion Wood

Every year in the first week of August we hold our Annual Fruit Tree Sale. These trees are sold bare rooted for Southland only and must be picked up from Riverton. Our members receive the Fruit Tree List one week before the public, so if you want to get in early you should become a member! We also sell apple scion wood from our heritage orchards in early September if you want to graft your own trees. To sign up to receive information about upcoming fruit tree sales and workshops and for the list of available scion wood varieties please contact us.

Want to know more about fruit tree care and selection?
We have a range of downloadable information sheets to help!

Click here to subscribe to our mailing list and receive the lists when they are out.

Enjoy this amusing video about the Open Orchard project made by university students: 

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History of apple trees in Southland

The ancestors of the domesticated apple originated in Central Asia, in the Tien-Shan mountains between Kazakhstan and China, and over thousands of years were spread along the ancient Silk Road to Europe. The first orchards in New Zealand were planted by our early settlers possibly from as far back as the 1850’s.

Captain Howell, the first European settler in Southland, had orchards planted in each of his stations. By 1910 there were hundreds of orchards around Southland, some of which were acres in size. Trees planted included apples, pears, quince, apricots and berries. The Drummond Store was reported as not stocking fruit, because it was growing so plentifully in the area in the early 1900’s. Every corner of Southland has remnants of these orchards and some are still standing complete but near the end of their natural life. Our colonial ancestors brought the best from their homelands and these had origins sometimes centuries back from all over Europe. There were once thousands of varieties of apples available world wide, and as many as 600 varieties of gooseberries! Elderly Southlanders recall the fun of raiding local orchards when they were young and remember with pleasure tasting the varieties of the fruit found in them.

This diversity has been greatly diminished throughout the world during the last century with changing land use, the advent of supermarkets and the ready availability of imported fruit. The few varieties of each fruit available now in the supermarket are a poor reflection of the potential, bred as they are for colour, storage ability and commercial scale management. Many of these varieties do poorly in a home garden and most can’t be managed without chemical inputs.

Work by The New Zealand Tree Crops Association and Hort Research has uncovered simply what people have known for years: that modern apples do not have the flavour of the old varieties. This work has shown that some 'old apples' have superior levels of antioxidants that can inhibit cancer cells and reduce heart disease.

Heritage apple varieties can grow healthily and fruitfully with little or no care in Southland.

History of Apple Trees
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