Switzerland 2019

We take a break from the series on the life expectancy of fruit trees to introduce three topics inspired by a recent trip to Switzerland: fruit trees at various altitudes, fruit trees in expanding cities and fruit trees in museum gardens.

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We stayed in Lausanne from 15 to 22 April. I knew I would see fruit trees, as I did during my 2016 trip to the Canton de Fribourg. From the commercial orchard to the tidy private garden, from the countryside to the city, they are found in various locations in this country where every square centimetre of land is precious. Our 2019 trip has been an opportunity to observe more closely what grows where.

In the country next to Lake Geneva

Fruit trees grow at different altitudes in the diverse countryside of Switzerland.

Many commercial orchards are exploited in the valleys, for instance in the fertile plain of the Rhône before the river flows into Lake Geneva.

These intensively farmed trees grow close to the lakeshore between Lausanne and Geneva. Many of them are located a bit higher up on the hills and can be seen on both sides of the E62 motorway. Photo 22 April 2019, Switzerland.

At lake level, trees are also found in private gardens. This young cherry is one of several fruit trees which grow in a small garden next to Nestlé’s headquarters in Vevey. Photo 16 April 2016.

Up in the World Heritage Vineyard Terraces of Lavaux, above Cully. Vines are omnipresent at this altitude between Lausanne and Vevey, however the odd fruit tree can still be seen around the houses (bottom left). Photo 20 April 2019.

An orchard with a more traditional tree shape next to a vineyard in the same area, slightly higher on the hillside, above the A9 motorway.

Up on the slopes near the woods.

Around eight hundred meters above sea level, near the Gourze Tower1. Up in the pastures, fruit trees can be seen around the farms and chalets as well as in the fields.

I must say I had no particular plans to take these photos. I hadn’t chosen a specific topic for my article and just took a few shots on the go. Having said that, I knew some people in Switzerland had planned for large trees to be reconsidered as a valuable element of the ecosystems, enabling for instance a number of animal species to live in their high branches. I was therefore curious to see this type of tree in the hills where human activity is less focused on high fruit production yields than in the valleys.

I shot this photo from the same spot as the previous one. Swiss pastures sometimes look like tidy gardens. To the left of this big cherry tree, a recently planted fruit tree in blossom.

Lake Geneva. Shot taken a few hundred meters away from the Gourze tower.

I would like to research this question of fruit trees at various altitudes in a more systematic way, to document the diversity of habitats and types of trees that populate the country. It would also enable to understand how the situation evolves. Are ‘standard trees’2, more than three meters high when adult, still used for commercial production and to what extent are the environmental policies aimed at repopulating the countryside with them effective? Which varieties perform well in altitude and are prioritised? Is climate change having an impact? I look forward to opportunities to study this and learn from existing research on these topics.

In the city of Lausanne

On Easter Sunday we were invited by local residents to visit a community garden recently created near the historic centre of Lausanne. The visit was unplanned and I didn’t have my camera, so I borrowed our host’s mobile phone to take a few pictures.

The Plantage du Vallon (Vallon’s allotment), located near the Saint-Maire castle. The project was initiated by the Association de Quartier du Vallon (Vallon’s borough citizen association) in 20143 and the allotment created in 2018. It includes eight fruit trees and a number of soft fruit bushes. Photo 21 April 2019.

Lausanne’s city council built the allotment, fenced it, installed collective access to water and compost bins, brought fresh soil and planted the fruit trees. I found the equipment of great quality. The wood is untreated, planned to be replaced every five years.

Most of the forty plots are between six and eighteen square meters wide. Tenants must live within five minutes on foot from the allotment and commit to agro-ecological principles of cultivation, detailed in a charter document called Charte des plantages. They pay an initial 20CHF contribution plus 3CHF per square meter per year.

It is worth noting that the fruit trees are standard trees which will grow big and high and should live for many decades while requiring little care after formative pruning. I also find them a good landscape transition between the plots below and the trees of the Hermitage park above.

An already vigorous mirabelle plum tree.

The Plantage du Vallon‘s gate. A few days later, during our visit to the Swiss National Museum in Prangins, I would discover the Yverdon Encyclopaedia’s4 definition of the word ‘garden’, which well describes the concept of this allotment in my view: ‘un terrain clos de haies ou de murs, voisin de la maison, et que l’on cultive avec beaucoup de soin’ (a piece of land enclosed by edges or walls, close to the house, which is cultivated with a lot of care).

The Plantage du Vallon has been created to last, as part of an ambitious plan designed in 2011 by the city’s council to reinforce the presence of allotments and family kitchen gardens in Lausanne. The formulation of a Plan Directeur des Jardins Familiaux et Potagers has been the first initiative of this kind in Switzerland5. The development of urban agriculture has also been listed as a strategic priority in the city’s Plan Directeur Communal (urban master plan)6.

This city of 140,000 inhabitants is expected to welcome 30,000 new citizens by 20307. More buildings will be built, the transportation network extended. Landscaping will make the city greener, as a way of making Lausanne an even more attractive place to live in. However, the Plan Directeur Communal (PDCom) and its operational arm the Plan Général d’Affectation (PGA) will require some green spaces to be displaced while other ones will be created. What will happen for instance to the orchard below? Will the fruit trees survive urban development?

Looking West from Route du Châtelard, on the heights of Lausanne, three kilometres away from the historic centre. Photo 22 April 2019.

Looking South at La Tuilière Stadium construction site behind the orchard: built-up areas are extending.

I found the answer in pages twelve and thirteen of the document detailing the 2018 plan for the renovation and rehabilitation of parks and domains, approved in December 2017 by the city’s Conseil communal (municipal parliament): the orchard of the Domaine du Châtelard will keep its trees and more will be planted8. Heritage is preserved in that particular case. Decisions to keep or move green and cultivated spaces must be difficult ones to take, however the ambitious and forward-looking environmental strategy of the council probably gains the approval of the local populations involved.

I look forward to monitoring the development of Lausanne’s food self-provisioning spaces. The implemented solutions should be full of practical learning applicable to other cities9. The presence of fruit trees, also planned to increase, won’t be as impressive as the thousands of fruit trees ‘Blossoming in the public spaces of Prague.’ However, I look forward to learning from the choices made and what they lead to, for instance what will be planted in the urban farms and how the fruit will actually be used.

At the Swiss National Museum in Prangins

In the middle of our week in Switzerland, we were invited to eat a fondue near the Gourze tower. We talked about food, local production and conservation of culinary traditions. During the conversation, we were advised to visit Prangins Castle10, one of the Swiss National Museum sites, located near Nyon on the shores of Lake Geneva: it was said to feature an interesting kitchen garden and a temporary exhibition called A table: What does Switzerland eat? We visited Prangins on the last day of our trip. I focused on the kitchen garden.

Arriving at Prangins was already a pleasant experience: we walked through a meadow orchard before entering the castle. Photo 22 April 2019.

It was an interesting visit indeed, which I am planning to narrate in the next article of this blog, where we will pursue our 2019 voyage of discovery in Switzerland.

 

  1. 3D Google Map of the Gourze Tower area (accessed 30 April 2019)
  2. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fruittreeforms.png (accessed 30 April 2019)
  3. https://www.quartierduvallon.ch/association/activites/jardins/ (in French, accessed 30 April 2019)
  4. https://classiques-garnier.com/yverdon-encyclopedia.html (accessed 30 April 2019)
  5. Lausanne: Plan Directeur des Jardins Familiaux et Potagers 2011 (urban plan for allotments and family kitchen gardens 2011) – pdf download  (in French, accessed 30 April 2019)
  6. Lausanne’s urban master plan, strategic orientations, p.32: https://www.lausanne.ch/dam/jcr:c46df081-cbe9-4942-ba23-596da1ba05e5/190220_PDCOM_erratum.pdf (in French, accessed 30 April 2019)
  7. Lausanne in 2030: https://www.lausanne.ch/officiel/grands-projets/lausanne-2030 (in French, accessed 30 April 2019)
  8. The report can be downloaded in pdf format here (in French, accessed 30 April 2019)
  9. Where and how to grow your food in Lausanne: https://www.lausanne.ch/en/vie-pratique/nature/la-nature-et-vous/bonnes-pratiques-conseils-nature/jardins-potagers.html (in French, accessed 30 April 2019)
  10. https://www.nationalmuseum.ch/e/prangins/index.php (accessed 30 April 2019)

 

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