Changing the landscape: Landscaping in front of Rothschild Performing Arts Center inspired by Santa Clara Valley orchards


Vivian Jin

Flowers bloom on trees lining a gravel walkway in the new landscaping area in front of the Rothschild Performing Arts Center. The landscaping area sports fruit trees, wild mustard and gravel paths.

by Vivian Jin, Reporter

Fruit trees. Wild mustard. Ornamental shrubs. Wandering paths. The vast landscaped area of the newly created region between the RPAC and Main Hall is now home to 45 varieties of Bing cherry trees, apricot trees and plum trees, complete with a drip irrigation system, gravel walkways and drought-resistant plants.

According to Facility Director Mike Bassoni, Harker hired HMH Engineers, a civil engineering company, to design the layout of the landscaped area to recreate an orchard as it might have been during Santa Clara Valley’s period of cultivating fruit.

“We want the experience to be like it was a working orchard in the first half of the 20th century,” Bassoni said. “You get to watch how a working orchard develops, how the fruit develops, and the trees will be raised entirely organically. We’re not going to use any pesticides or harmful chemicals.”

The upper school’s full-time gardeners, Urdelin Justo and Jose Hernandez, are responsible for maintaining the new environment and pruning the trees every winter.

Many of the plants were chosen specifically for being resistant to drought. California has been declared out of the worst of the drought since April 7, 2017, but is still recovering. According to the California Data Exchange Center (CDEC), none of the major reservoirs in California are 100% full, but around half of them have higher or equal water levels as their historical averages.

The wild mustard is historically significant and prevalent in the Santa Clara Valley, its yellow flowers lining the hills along the freeways. Additionally, the mustard propagates on its own.

To save water, the area’s drip irrigation system disperses water in a more measurable and controlled way than the traditional spray system, which causes water to be lost through evaporation.

The trees and mustard are expected to bloom this March and limited numbers of fruit will appear by the beginning of the next school year. There will be plenty of fruit by the spring of 2020.

“Fruit trees get to about 20 feet high, which is usually the maximum,” Bassoni said. “We’re going to encourage students to simply walk off the path and pick some apricots and enjoy them.”

Students have expressed curiosity and enthusiasm for the fruit orchard.

“I’ve never had any successful fruit trees,” Meha Goyal (9) said. “I think it’ll be really cool to see how these trees will grow [and] how everything will be. It’ll be really pretty because there will be flowers and fruit and it’ll feel just like spring.”

The orchard is intended to be an area of learning, history and fun for students.

I believe that Harker students get a spectacular education,” Bassoni said. “But in the Bay Area of your recollection, the focus has been on technology. [Before], this valley was one of the largest fruit producers in the world. Santa Clara Valley had a very prominent evolution in the growth of this country, and now you’ll get to experience that.”

This piece was originally published in the pages of the Winged Post on March 6, 2018.