The Holistic Orchard: Tree Fruits and Berries the Biological Way

Author: Michael Phillips
Pub: Chelsea Green Publishing
Price: £35

The Holist Orchard by Michael PhillipsThese days, concerns about chemical-based agriculture are enormous. So Michael Phillips’s new book The Holistic Orchard, in which he explains how to grow orchards ‘the holistic way’, couldn’t have arrived at a better time.

Phillips’s book moves on from The Apple Grower, his previous offering, by explaining how to organically grow orchards of a whole host of fruit varieties. And certainly, as I read over the book’s chapters on pome fruits (apples, pears, quinces), stone fruits (peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums) and berries (raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, gooseberries and elderberries), it’s hard to stop my mouth from watering over the possibilities.

The author’s perspective on trees themselves is particularly interesting. His approach towards agriculture almost seems to go as far as regarding trees as sentient beings. When discussing the length of time it took to complete the book (two years), Phillips explains it took so long because ‘the trees had more to say’ than he’d imagined. Furthermore, he begins the book by looking from ‘the perspective of the plant, not the human’.

His outlook results in a refreshing way of explaining how to design orchards and manage ecosystems by using permaculture principles and focusing on biodiversity. He suggests, for example, that fruit trees should be planted on the edges of forests, as that is where they want to grow. Consequently, the underlying theme of the book is of respect for trees and for nature in general. The latter is even spelt with a capital letter, recalling a quotation by Frank Lloyd Wright: “I put a capital N on Nature and call it my church.”

At over 400 pages, the book is comprehensive and in-depth. It’s also well written and generally accessible, although the more technical language used from time to time may be hard to understand for a beginner. Alongside the text are numerous diagrams and charts to help the reader understand the issues discussed, as well as many pictures of Phillips having a great
time with trees and looking a bit like the Seasick Steve of the arboreal world.

In some ways the book is innovative, in others it relies on age-old methods of growing and managing trees (which could perhaps be regarded as innovative in the current agricultural climate). Either way, the book is written with a deep knowledge that should help beginners and experts alike to improve their fruit crop.