Heritage Orchard Gets a Facelift as Museum Collaborates with New Orchardist

By November 14, 2023Press Releases

LOS ALTOS, CA (Nov 14, 2023) A revitalizing transformation is underway in Los Altos Heritage Orchard. Pruning and planting activities, combined with the installation of a drip irrigation system, are breathing new life into this historic landmark. At the helm of these projects stands the Orchard Commons Committee of Los Altos History Museum led by Chair Jane Packard, and Terence Welch, a seasoned orchardist with 45 years of fruit-growing expertise. Collectively, they are working to implement best practices in maintaining and renovating the orchard to preserve its legacy.


In July, Los Altos History Museum entered into an agreement with the City to assume responsibility for the care and upkeep of the Heritage Orchard. The orchard had previously been tended by Phil Doetsch, who served as the City’s orchardist from 2014 – 2022. Following his unfortunate passing, the Museum initiated a search for a new orchardist.


Museum Board Member Tyler Furuichi, whose family owned Los Altos Nursery and who operates his own landscape design business, recommended Welch for the position of orchardist. Terence Welch is the owner of Backyard Orchards, a consulting and management service that specializes in home orchard design, installation, pruning, maintenance, and educating clients about fruit cultivation. He brings expertise to the orchardist role, being an International Society of Arboriculture Certified Arborist and a member of the California Rare Fruit Growers. Welch’s passion for fruit growing began at the age of eighteen and has blossomed into a lifelong commitment.


“The initial phase of orchard restoration, a project in development for an extended period, involved the installation of an irrigation system made possible with matching funds from Valley Water and the City of Los Altos,” Welch explained. “Historically, the orchard relied on pipes and sprinklers for irrigation. Converting to drip irrigation not only enhances efficiency, it’s also easier to use. The final installation of this system is expected to be completed in the coming months.”


In the second phase, the apricot trees were pruned to eight feet, making it easier for people to harvest the fruit without the need for ladders. Additionally, deadwood was removed, and as much diseased wood as possible to revitalize the trees. Trees that were dead or dying were felled, and the remaining stumps will be removed. The final step involves replanting the orchard with apricot trees, slated for February, with three hundred trees ordered from Four Winds Nursery in Watsonville.


“Santa Clara Valley has a rich history of growing Blenheim apricots, the best-tasting, most luscious apricots grown,” Welch said. “The choice of this variety was influenced by the region’s dry, warm summers and cool winters, creating optimal growing conditions. The landscape underwent significant change due to subdivisions and development, erasing much of the Valley’s apricot orchard legacy. The Heritage Orchard stands as a poignant reminder of the region’s agricultural origins.”


Under the City’s contract, the Museum is taking the lead on developing an Orchard Master Plan for maintenance and revitalization of this historical asset. All parties interested in providing input to the Orchard Commons Committee may contact the Chair, Jane Packard, at orchard@losaltoshistory.org.


Los Altos History Museum began in 1977 with the opening of the historic J. Gilbert Smith House, built in 1905 on 14+ acres of apricot orchards planted by Mr. Smith. In 2001, Los Altos History Museum opened the modern building next door, which houses the Museum’s collections, permanent and changing exhibitsstore and administrative offices. The Museum and its grounds are available for rent during evenings and weekends. Its collections are owned by the City of Los Altos and are managed by an independent nonprofit organization, whose staff and volunteers are responsible for all programs and operations.


The Museum is open Thursday through Sunday, from noon-4pm. Admission is free. Tours of the J. Gilbert Smith House are available during open hours. The outdoor agricultural exhibit, gardens and picnic area are accessible beyond Museum hours. For more information, visit: losaltoshistory.org, email hello@losaltoshistory.org, or phone 650.948.9427 x14.


Los Altos History Museum: Elisabeth I. Ward, 650.948.9427 x10, eward@losaltoshistory.org