Meridian Playground

Historic orchard on a landmark site recalls turn of the 20th century

On July 31, 1907 the Sisters of the Good Shepherd opened “The Home of the Good Shepherd” in north Seattle to provide shelter, education, and guidance to girls and young women in crisis. The Sisters planted and maintained a fruit orchard and vegetable garden on the eleven acre property. Part of the original grounds has become Meridian Park and includes many of the 100-year old trees the Sisters planted. The building now houses a variety of non-profit organizations and low income artist housing.

Today Meridian Park is abuzz with activity all year long. A children’s area features book-themed sculptures scattered among play structures. The Seattle Tilth Children’s Garden was created atop a filled-in swimming pool and its former bathhouse was converted into a gazebo. The surrounding large grass fields are available for sports and picnics, and the historic trees still offer their gifts of fruit to the surrounding community.

History: A gift from the Sisters of the Good Shepherd

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At the turn of the 20th century the Sisters of the Good Shepherd planted an extensive orchard with several varieties of apples, pears, plums and cherries. Winter Banana apples were grown to make cider, while others were stored for fresh eating and cooking. Girls living at the school helped care for the orchards and harvested and processed the fruit.

As residency at the Home of the Good Shepherd declined in the 1960s and 1970s, the orchards fell into disrepair, and the Home officially closed in June 1973. The Seattle Parks and Recreation acquired the 11-acre campus in 1976 and subsequently transferred ownership of the building to Historic Seattle. The Good Shepherd Center currently houses the Wallingford Senior and Community Center, The Meridian School, Seattle Tilth, Washington Green Schools, Tilth Producers of Washington, artist work and living spaces, and many other community groups.

Trees & Site: Century-old trees bearing fruit for today

Also known as Meridian Playground, the park and orchard are located in the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle, bounded by N. 50th Street on the north, Meridian Avenue N. on the west, and Sunnyside Avenue N. on the east.  The property is owned by the City of Seattle and much of the orchard is maintained by Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation.  The Good Shepherd Center, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is managed by Historic Seattle. Its adjacent parking lot contains 26 fruit trees which are maintained by Historic Seattle. The Seattle P-Patch Program and Seattle Tilth manage fruit trees within the learning and community garden areas.

Renovation of the Meridian playfield in 1981 led to the removal of many of the original fruit trees.  Of the 200+ fruit trees planted in the early orchard, 49 remain: these include 30 apples, 13 cherries, six plums. Varieties include Winter Banana, McIntosh, Jersey Black, Rhode Island Greening, and Duchess of Oldenburg apples as well as Early Transparent and Italian Prune plums.

Orchard Restoration & Development: Volunteers revive a healthy orchard

Over years of neglect, the apple and other original fruit trees have become large and overgrown. The fruit is often infested with pests and difficult to reach posing a concern to neighbors and park users. Heavy use and constant foot traffic from park users, Frisbee throwers and picnickers compact the soil. Lack of mulch allows grass is to grow up to the base of the trees.  Together, these conditions have eroded the health of this potentially productive orchard.

In recent years interested volunteers are reviving the historic orchard.  Neighborhood volunteers worked with Seattle Parks and Recreation to map and identify most of the fruit trees. Meridian Park has hosted a traditional English wassail in January of recent years which featured the Sound and Fury Morris dancers of Seattle and other Morris dancers from Portland.

Future Plans

City Fruit continues to recruit neighbors interested in stewarding the Meridian Park orchard on a long-term (3 to 5-year) basis. The steward group works with Parks Department staff to develop a multi-year renovation pruning plan and to hold community-wide work parties for pest management and fruit harvest.

To celebrate the harvest, the orchard volunteers will also host an annual fall cider pressing party.  Watch for details of this festive event in the autumn as the apples mature.

Fun Facts

1. In 1905, the Sisters of the Good Shepherd commissioned local architect C. Alfred Breitung to build the Home of the Good Shepherd. The cornerstone was laid in September 1906 and the building was erected at a cost of $125,000. Mr. Breitung sent ice cream for the Sisters and three busloads of children on opening day, July 29, 1907.

2. A commercial laundry opened in the Good Shepherd building in 1908. The Great Northern and Northern Pacific Railroads were major clients along with some downtown hotels. Initially, a team of horses pulled a delivery cart from Wallingford through downtown to the railroad yards. Deliveryman Leonard Boyle lived on the grounds with his family and took care of the horses and cows.

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3. Seattle Tilth, located in the Good Shepherd building, was started in 1977, “to support and promote biologically sound and socially equitable agriculture in the Pacific Northwest.” This innovative organization was inspired by Kentucky farmer, poet and visionary Wendell Berry. In a 1973 symposium in Spokane, Berry spoke about the need to change our relationship with the land and the food it produces. Seattle participants at the event later communicated with Berry who challenged them to “bring together individuals and organizations concerned with creating a better kind of agriculture,” in the hope that it “would be the start of something or other that would be useful.” Seattle Tilth was the result.

Interesting Plantings

The three largest apple trees at Meridian are Gravensteins, two standard and one red.

Two 100+ year old Winter Banana trees were blown over in a windstorm in October 2014. One tree was pulled upright with Parks heavy equipment and thrives today; the other did not survive. The Meridian School students plan to purchase and plant a replacement apple tree.

 

Want to get involved in this Orchard?