Government Experimental Orchard

Purchased in 1908 from landowner George Frederick Dall, the 52.5acre (20.8ha) Government Experimental Orchard played a crucial role in the development of horticulture in South Australia.

Also known as Blackwood Experimental Orchard, this was the main research facility serving orchardists in the cool temperature production areas of the state. It played a pivotal role in the development and introduction of new horticultural technologies.

Thomas Playford II (b1837), grew up in Norton Summit and became an orchardist and market gardener, before terms in the South Australian Parliament from 1868 to the 1890s. He then represented the state as Agent General to the UK, during which time he had varietal fruit trees sent to Adelaide’s Hackney Experimental and Demonstration Orchard on Hackney Rd, near the Botanic Gardens. That site proved too small and so a Type Orchard was established at Mylor. The new site had problems of poor drainage and frosty winters, so the land was acquired at Blackwood. 

The course of an east-west creek was realigned to provide more arable area.

By 1909, a significant portion of the land had been cleared. Fruit trees – sourced from named scion material held by nurseries locally, interstate and overseas – had been planted. By 1927 there were more than 4,100 distinct varieties of fruit trees planted including:

1,624 Apples; 893 Pears; 379 Plums; 362 Peaches; 218 Cherries; 137 Figs; 115 Apricots; 112 Citrus; 80 Nectarine; 46 Almonds; 43 Persimmons; 42 Quinces; 12 Walnuts; 30 Filberts & Cob nuts (Hazelnuts); 17 Loquats; and 4 Olives.

There were also collections of strawberries, gooseberries, currants and raspberries.

The trees were initially watered from two wells – one equipped with a pump and 5,000 gallon tank. In 1934 a bore was sunk and equipped with a pump to give up to 1,500 gallons per hour for irrigation.

The Blackwood Experimental Orchard was considered to hold the largest collection of varietal fruit trees planted in one place anywhere in the world.

Comprehensive records were kept for each tree detailing flowering times, fruit yields and quality. Records were also kept regarding pest sprays, manure and fertilizer trials, tillage and cover crop trials.

The orchard was a major source of named budwood scions for commercial nurseries.

During the 1940s many of the fruit trees were ripped out. The focus of operations changed to conducting trials on 20 to 30 varieties of apples and pears – the main commercial crops in the area. Erosion issues led to the new plantings were established using the ‘contour method’ – believed to have been the first time that this was used commercially in SA.

In the 1950s the focus changed again to experimenting with replanting, irrigation, cold storage, disease control and fruit handling.

In the most active times there were three technical staff and eight orchard hands, many from local families. Their roles in the orchard reflected the wider community where fruit and vegetable growing was a major source of income. Many of today’s residents are unaware of the importance of this activity to our state and nation.

In 1965 operations began transferring to Lenswood because that area was more suited to apples. Housing was replacing many commercial orchards in Coromandel Valley and by 1967 the Government Experimental Orchard had left the valley.

In 1968 the land was returned to The Crown and there were plans for use as housing allotments. Major action by the community prevented this and the area became protected for open space community use, as it now remains.

It is now Blackwood Forest Recreation Park.