Mt. Joy Orchard, a public orchard in Portland, pictured in May. John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

When it comes to fruit, little is better than fresh and free. That is one of the best things about Mt. Joy Orchard in Portland. Harvesting the fruit takes some effort, and the orchard’s caretakers would welcome some help, but the fruit, ranging from strawberries to apples, is free for the taking.

The orchard, located on a little more than an acre of land between Washington Avenue and North Street, was created around 2013 as part of then Mayor Michael Brennan’s food-resilience campaign, the volunteer coordinators of the orchard – Aaron Parker and Kristen Sheehy – recalled in a telephone interview. It’s on city-owned land with excellent views of Back Cove.

To get things started, the city donated about a dozen apple trees, Parker remembers, planted in an even row. Today, Mt. Joy Orchard is also home to plum, pear, peach, cherry, elderberry and paw paw trees, more than 100 trees total. The orchard is still mostly apple trees, though, most of which are now producing fruit; newly planted scions take a little while to produce. Strawberries and raspberries have also been planted at the orchard.

“When we saw how big the site was, we got really excited,” Sheehy said. There would be, they realized, lots of room for the public orchard to grow.

Most of the plants have been donated, though the city regularly drops off wood chips and compost for the orchard. The site is maintained by volunteers. Throughout the growing season, two work parties are held at the orchard each month. Also on the schedule is an annual spring pruning day, spring planting day and a work session toward the end of the growing season to ready the trees for winter. Parker estimates that over the span of a year some 100 people volunteer at least once.

I attended the annual spring-pruning day in late February. The event opened with an hour-long pruning workshop. Then Parker divvied the attendees up into several pruning groups, assigning at least one experienced pruner to each group. Parker is a good teacher, so if you’d like to improve your pruning techniques, consider attending next year’s program. I’ve done quite a bit of pruning on our property and have read many articles on the topic, yet I still picked up some tips. Because it was cold and windy that day, we weren’t able to complete the job so a second pruning day was scheduled for March.


Mt. Joy Orchard is a stand-alone organization, but it has a working relationship with the Portland Resilience Hub, an organization of permaculture growers. Most of the organizers of the orchard also have a connection to the hub. Mt. Joy workers also have a relationship with the nearby Boyd Street orchard, which is organized by Cultivating Community.

The year’s biggest annual event, spring planting day is scheduled for Saturday, May 11. It starts with a seed swap that includes both plant seedlings and divisions; any material that goes unclaimed will be planted in the orchard. A work party to plant low-bush blueberries and paw paw trees will follow the seed swap.

Because peach trees are short-lived, usually only about 10 years, the idea is to plant longer-lived paw paws among the peaches. Paw paws (botanical name Asimina triloba) are the only member of the Asimina that grows outside the tropics. The fruit resembles a mango, according to Maine horticulturist Barbara Damrosch, but its interior has custardy, spoonable flesh and easy-to-remove seeds.

Late in the season, a workday is held at Mt. Joy to place screening around the trees near the ground to keep rodents from chewing on the bark during the winter.

While I was pruning, I noticed that at least one plum tree with a black knot. I gave up on growing plums in our yard because I could not control black knot, a common fungal disease. Parker instructed us to cut the growth out and remove it from the site. After doing so, it’s always important to sterilize the pruning tools with alcohol to avoid spreading the disease.

Anyone who’d like to help out at can sign up on the organization’s website, Mt. Joy also has a Facebook page.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at:

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