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A Public Orchard Opens in NYC Featuring Rare Heritage Fruits

A Public Orchard Opens in NYC Featuring Rare Heritage Fruits

New Yorkers will experience fruits that have not been available to the public for centuries

Fun will be ripe for the picking on Governors Island this month! The Trust for Governors Island announced a new–and permanent–exhibit titled, The Open Orchard, a commissioned artwork by botanist and artist, Sam Van Aken. 

But this is no ordinary art exhibit. It involves art, science and history to save near-extinct fruit species. The Open Orchard, set to open on Arbor Day, April 29, will be a public orchard of 102 fruit trees that act as a living archive for rare heritage fruits.   

The fruit varieties featured in the exhibit were grown in and around New York City over the past 400 years, but have mostly disappeared due to climate change and the industrialization of agriculture. But  now, New Yorkers will get to see these once-plentiful fruits that were popular many generations ago. 

These species include George IV peaches, Stuyvesant pears, Bloodgood pears and many more.

Curious as to how the artist made all of these real trees? Using a unique grafting process, Van Aken combined multiple fruit varieties into a single tree—so different varieties grow alongside one another and  the trees blossom in a rainbow of white, pink, and crimson. 

Beyond their aesthetic appeal, these  hybrid trees undertake the critically important work of preserving dozens of rare fruit varieties in  a safe environment, providing a road map for innovative techniques to maintain vital biodiversity in the face of a changing climate. In other words, this is not only a fascinating display of heritage fruit, but the project will help preserve the species for years to come!

“Sam Van Aken’s vital work transforms preconceived notions about what public art can be,  preserves the ecological history of our region, and allows New Yorkers from all five boroughs  to enjoy a beautiful public orchard in the heart of New York harbor,” said Clare Newman, President and CEO of the Trust for Governors Island. “The island is an ideal location  to explore issues of environmental preservation and the felt impacts of climate change through  art and public engagement. We cannot wait to welcome Island visitors to experience this  ambitious work in person.”

What to Expect at The Open Orchard on Governors Island

You're probably wondering right about now if you can actually pick the fruit on these artsy trees. The short answer is...yes! Though, more details on how you can do this will be announced soon. In the meantime, here are some other activities you and your family can enjoy at The Open Orchard:

  • Talks and performances

  • Fruit tastings

  • Harvest events

  • Culinary lessons

According to the Trust for Governors Island, additional programs will be announced in the coming  months. The Open Orchard, commissioned through Governors Island Arts, is co-curated by  Meredith Johnson, Vice President for Arts and Culture and Head Curator at the Trust for  Governors Island, and Shane Brennan, former Director of Public Programs.

“The Open Orchard on Governors Island, and the expansive orchard taking place across the  entire city in community gardens in all five boroughs, wouldn’t have been possible without the  time, energy, and generosity of so many invested in art, biodiversity and revisiting this  forgotten history of New York,” said artist Sam Van Aken. “After eight years in  development and five years of the project growing at Governors Island, I remain indebted to all  those involved and humbled to find a place and community with the shared vision of  rethinking not just agriculture but the culture that surrounds it.” 

In addition to the exhibit, Van Aken also cultivated and donated nearly 100 additional trees that will be planted in community gardens throughout the five  boroughs in partnership with NYC Parks GreenThumb. These community gardens include:


  • Children's Magical Garden, 131 Stanton Street

  • East Side Outside Community Garden, 415 East 11th Street

  • El Jardin del Paraiso, 710 East 5th Street

  • LaGuardia Corner Community Garden, 511 LaGuardia Place

  • West 87th Street Park & Garden, 55-57 West 87th Street

  • Green Oasis Community Garden, 372 E 8th St

  • Campos Community Garden, 640-644 East 12th Street

  • Morris Jumel Community Garden, 455-457 W 162nd Street

  • Pleasant Village Community Garden, 353 Pleasant Avenue

  • Lydia's Magic Garden, 1665 Park Avenue

  • Brotherhood Sisterhood Sol, 140 Hamilton Place

Staten Island

  • Hill Street Garden, 50 Hill Street

The Bronx

  • Davidson Avenue Community Garden, 2385 Davidson Avenue

  • Melrose New Generation Community Garden, 377 East 160th Street

  • River Garden, 1086 East 180th Street

  • College Avenue Garden, 1420 College Avenue

  •  Woodycrest Community Garden, 949 Woodycrest Avenue

  •  New Beginnings Community Garden, 2502 Davidson Avenue

  • Genesis Community Garden, 1183 Franklin Avenue


  • Gregory's Garden, 444 Warwick Street

  • Jerry and the Senior Gents, 349 Schenck Avenue

  • Maple Street Community Garden, Maple Street

  • Madison Square Association Garden, 1264 Madison Street

  • Know Waste Lands, 1278 Myrtle Avenue

  • First Quincy Street Community Garden, 401 Quincy Street

  • East 4th Community Garden, 171 E 4th Street

  • Green Dome, 229 North 12th Street

  • I.S. 318 Project Roots, 110 Walton Street

  • Brooklyn Bears/Carlton Avenue Garden, 397-401 Carlton Avenue

  • Hollenback Community Garden, 460 Washington Avenue

  • Java Street Community Garden, 59 Java Street

  • Nehemiah Ten GreenThumb Block Association, 565 Barbey Street

  • Success Garden - East New York, 449-461 Williams Avenue


  • Smiling Hogshead Ranch, 25-30 Skillman Avenue

Inspired by Van Aken’s earlier project Tree of 40 Fruit, which included single trees grafted to  contain up to 40 different varieties of fruit, The Open Orchard builds upon the artist’s longtime  dream of an expansive orchard of trees containing hundreds of fruit varieties located in the  heart of New York City. Fruit trees cannot be saved in seed banks and must be grown as living  trees to be preserved, so Van Aken planned and created his dream orchard that would preserve  these fruits for future generations while allowing contemporary audiences to experience fruits that have not been available to the public for centuries.

What You Need to Know About Visiting The Open Orchard at Governors Island

Where is Governors Island located? 

Governors Island is considered part of Manhattan and located in New York Harbor. 

How do I get to Governors Island?

Get to the island by taking the ferry from Manhattan at 10 South St. Boats run daily. A round trip ferry ticket is $3 for adults and free for seniors and children younger than 12. Check out the ferry schedule at

When is The Open Orchard at Governors Island open?

The exhibit is open during Governors Island's normal operating hours, which are Monday- Sunday, 7am-6pm. The Open Orchard is a permanent exhibit. 
For more information, visit or follow Governors Island on Facebook or Instagram

Main image by Sam Van Aken

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Barbara Russo

Author: Barbara Russo is a freelance writer who holds a bachelor's degree in communications from the City University of New York. She enjoys playing guitar, following current events, and hanging out with her pet rabbits. See More

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