PENINSULA PROFILE: She shares love, knowledge of fruit at orchard society’s autumn show

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News

Orchard Society show set

■ THE OLYMPIC ORCHARD Society will host the Fall Fruit Show from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9, at Trinity United Methodist Church, 100 S. Blake Ave., Sequim.

Fruit tasting, apple identification and guidance for gardeners are all part of the event, while grafted trees and local apples will be for sale.

Joseph Postman of the USDA Pear Repository in Corvallis, Ore., will give a talk at 1 p.m., and local orchardist Erik Simpson will hold a fruit forum discussion at 2 p.m.

Admission is a suggested donation of $3 per person or $5 per family.

■   Olympic Orchard Society meetings are open to newcomers, are held at 7 p.m. the second Tuesday of the month at the Commissioners’ Chambers at the Clallam County Courthouse, 223 E. Fourth St., Port Angeles.

For more information, phone 360-775-1869 or email or

Peninsula Daily News
SEQUIM — Marilyn Couture will tell you her age, 75, without skipping a beat.

When asked for the secret for making this age look this good, Couture has a quick comeback.

“Fruit,” she answers with a demure smile.

Couture’s not kidding. She comes from a family of growers and gardeners, and around this time of year, she’s especially enthused.

Apple-pear season is peaking, and Couture, as a go-to person with the Olympic Orchard Society, is already taking calls on her home phone about the Fall Fruit Show coming next Saturday, Nov. 9, to the Trinity United Methodist Church in Sequim.

Fruit tasting, apple identification, a big-apple contest and displays of this year’s best local fruit are all part of the event, as are apple crisp and coffee.

“You get an education at the show,” Couture said.

She recently took a trip to her home state of Oregon to add even more. Couture and pear expert Joseph Postman — who will be a guest speaker at Saturday’s event — harvested fruit from the USDA Pear Repository in Corvallis.

They picked scores of varieties — and brought back 38 kinds for the Fall Fruit Show.

They’re “varieties that we rarely see, including Pound Pear, Beurre Gris, Dana Hovey, Lakewood, Laxinova, Hermit and Porportia,” Couture said.

Postman will talk about his favorites and serve samples at the show. It’ll be a feast for fruit enthusiasts and a whole new world for those who have scarcely heard of anything other than Bartlett.

Unknown to many around this country, Sequim and the Dungeness Valley are rich with orchards and backyard fruit trees, thanks to the good climate and soil conditions.

Small- and medium-scale growers, cider makers and home gardeners are scattered across the North Olympic Peninsula, while hard cider is increasing in popularity at places such as Finnriver Farm & Cidery in Chimacum, which gathers imperfect backyard apples for a community cider project.

Finnriver then sells the cider at stores in Jefferson and Clallam counties and donates 10 cents per bottle to the Jefferson County Food Bank Association.

When Couture was asked where some prolific trees might be found, she instantly thought of Erik and Del Simpson’s place. There among the rows of apple, quince, pear and plum trees is a Wolf River apple tree that stops a visitor in her tracks.

It fairly drips with dark red fruit. And with its snappy flavor, the Wolf River is good for cider, pies and eating off the tree, said Erik.

He and Del moved to rural Clallam County after more than four decades in Alaska.

They had 17 fruit trees up there — nowhere near enough. So when it came time to “retire,” they headed for Sequim, which has the blend of warm and cool that’s just right for some major fruit growing.

Ten years ago, the Simpsons founded the nonprofit Olympic Orchard Society, and began organizing public workshops and orchard tours around the region.

At monthly meetings in Port Angeles, guest speakers offer advice on keeping those trees prolific; protecting them from bugs, deer, starlings and crows, for example — while sticking to organic practices.

Just as Clallam County is a meeting place for people from all corners of the country, Olympic Orchard Society gatherings bring together commercial growers, home gardeners — and people who have moved here and wonder what kind of fruit this is in the yard.

With fruit cultivation, “I never cease to learn something, every year,” said Simpson. “There’s always a new challenge,” keeping him interested.

Couture, for her part, first made contact with the Simpsons before she moved here.

“I hear you’ve got a fruit club,” she said from her home on Maui, Hawaii.

She and her late husband, Clay, had taken a vacation on the island. By the end of it, looked at each other and said, “Let’s live here.”

“We came home and sold everything,” Couture recalled.

Then “we ran away from home.”

Once relocated, Clay and Marilyn proceeded to get involved with their local community, logging thousands of volunteer hours at the Maui Arts and Culture Center. They also grew fruit: bananas, mangoes and more, but no apples, since they need a cool period like the one Washington state has.

But after 13 years on Maui, it was time to come home to the Pacific Northwest. Clay and Marilyn loved the camping trips and hikes here, and soon became active in the Olympic Orchard Society.

But Clay became ill with cancer and died in October 2009, leaving behind his wife of 51 years, their four children, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Marilyn is officially retired, at least from her teaching career, which included 37 years at Linfield College in McMinn­ville, Ore. But “retired” doesn’t seem to fit her full and active life. She still delights in educating people about growing good food.

Every year, the Olympic Orchard Society holds a grafting workshop for Sequim High School’s horticulture students.

Each teenager gets to take home a tree and plant it, which has resulted in some 400 fruit trees established in this valley over the past 10 years.

“When you’ve learned how to graft and nurture a tree and it bears fruit, that’s pretty exciting,” Couture said.

So the society offers grafting workshops for the general public, too, with root stock that is adapted to local conditions. These classes are offered in March at McComb Gardens, the nursery on McComb Road just outside Sequim.

Couture, meanwhile, is nurturing her own orchard.

“I’m really just getting started,” she said. “I have about 50 trees, but they’re young, four or five years old.”

Choosing the right fruit varieties for the locale is the key to success, Couture and Simpson agree. Granny Smiths don’t like it here, for example, and will only grow to golf-ball size. And the Honeycrisp needs an inordinate amount of pesticide to produce.

Couture has an especially beloved apple: the Jonagold. Applesauce is probably her favorite product, but “you can do anything with it.”

Simpson added he has a Jonagold tree that produces about 100 apples a year.

And while Simpson and Couture spend lots of time in their orchards — and will happily take off for an orchard tour off the Peninsula — the Olympic Orchard Society isn’t only for those with so many trees.

“You can plant a tree in a pot, and take it with you” when moving to a new house, said Couture.

“It’ll get root-bound, so you can plant it in the ground, and then dig it up” next time you move, added Simpson.

The best time for such transplanting, he said, is right now, in the fall.

In the Orchard Society, Couture added, “we have people with just one tree.”

Last modified: November 02. 2013 7:02PM
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