California’s historic orchards are a tangible link to the past which allow us to take a glimpse into the lives of the people who worked and lived on these lands. These sites are also repositories for many rare and unusual fruit and nut varieties which are worth preserving in their own right. Today many of California’s agricultural landscapes have been lost, or are in decline due to neglect or the conversion of the land for other purposes. 

One of the goals of California State Parks’ cultural stewardship program is to preserve cultural landscapes and these historic orchards.  Preservation of these sites begins with an assessment of the orchards to describe the condition of the trees and document their location.  This information, combined with historic research and evaluation, will help establish the orchards’ historic significance as well as its physical condition.

Assessments create an overall understanding of the orchard as well as the condition of the individual trees.  This information can then be used to develop a stabilization plan, which contains guidelines for the preservation of the orchard until such time as a treatment and management plan can be adopted.  Ideally, all of these steps are addressed in one document--a Cultural Landscape Report.  

Orchard management plans are the documents that guide the cyclic activities that will retain and improve the condition of the orchard.

Orchard treatment plans describe a blueprint vision for the future of the orchard - a goal that would be attained through the prescribed treatments, and maintained through a program of regular maintenance activities. 
  NPS Landscape Architect Susan Dolan at Sonoma Developmental Orchard (Jack London)
                       NPS Landscape Architect Susan Dolan 
           at Sonoma Developmental Center Orchard (Jack London)

Historic Orchard Workshop, March 2010

In March, 2010, California State Parks and the National Park Service conducted a Historic Orchard Workshop at the Sonoma Developmental Center Orchard in Jack London State Historic Park.  At the workshop, participants learned how to identify and assess historic orchards, and learned the management techniques and tools available to historic orchard managers.  California State Parks filmed the workshop, and presents it here as training video.

Sonoma Developmental Center Orchard Site Map (pdf)

Orchard Workshop Slideshow (pdf)

Orchard Workshop Sessions Outline (pdf)

Historic Orchard Assessment Training Video


California State Parks Historic Orchards Survey

In 2008 the California Department of Parks and Recreation Cultural Stewardship Program conducted an on-line survey of state parks with orchards and fruit trees. The Survey was conducted with these objectives:

  • To identify state parks with potentially historic fruit trees/orchards, greater than 50 years old;
  • To identify parks with potentially non-historic fruit trees/orchards, less than 50 years old;
  • To identify parks that maintain or have management objectives to maintain orchards/fruit trees;
  • To identify the range of fruit tree species and varieties in parks;
  • To identify the geographic distribution throughout the state of fruit tree species in parks;
  • To identify the potential total number of orchards and fruit trees in parks;
  • To identify information needs about orchards and fruit trees in state parks.

54 state parks responded to the survey. The system wide survey results found here, show that at least 44 (or approximatley 15%) of the entire system have potentially historic orchards or fruit trees. A large number of orchard fruit species were also revealed, reflecting California's place in the nation as home to the greatest diversity of fruit and nut crops.

Sonoma Developmental Center Orchard (Jack London)
Sonoma Developmental Center Orchard (Jack London)

Helpful Links

People interested in the development of their own orchard assessment and management plans will find the following links useful.

Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation, Historic Orchard Initiative

A form to help determine the condition of an orchard
Orchard Condition Assessment Field Form (pdf)

Orchard Assessment and Stabilization Plan for Sonoma Developmental Center Orchard, Jack London State Historic Park
Click Here (pdf)

Orchard Management Plan for John Muir National Historic Site
Click Here (pdf)