While most of us dream our dreams as an exercise of the imagination, a rare few actually make their dreams come true. Alyson’s Orchard in Walpole is such a dream, a very real imagining about a magical place. Looking across the Connecticut River from his Westminster, Vt., home more than 25 years ago, self-made technology entrepreneur Bob Jasse spied a pristine plot of land in Walpole.
“I thought it would be nice to start an orchard from scratch,” recalls the feisty 78-year-old, born in Revere, Mass. “As a youth, I hunted with my uncle, John, often in old apple orchards, where we could birdwatch, too — one of my favorite things to do. An apple orchard at that time was the epicenter of my universe.”
To fashion his own apple-scented Eden named for a daughter who died in infancy, Jasse started with the purchase of 233 acres of Walpole’s finest riparian terrain in 1981. Sculpting the eventual holding of 500 acres into a pastoral, hilltop kingdom of orchards, ponds, old logging roads and trails “was not without difficulties,” though visitors today will certainly savor his vision — 52-acres planted (in the European style) with 20,000 fruit trees bursting with 50 varieties of apples, plus pears, peaches, plums, nectarines and cherries as well as grapes and berries. There are crops of other specialty produce, too, including quince, winter squash, pumpkin and hops.
Whether these fragrant morsels are hand-picked by visitors or purchased at the orchard farm stand, sampled at home or in pies and other foods made on the premises, the bottom line is the Alyson’s Orchard experience.
“When I was young, the primary reason for going to the apple orchard was so our mother could put up a lot of applesauce. It was about the food source,” explains Homer Dunn, manager of the orchards at Alyson’s, and before that, the owner of a New England-wide fruit tree pruning business and his own namesake orchard in Vermont. “Now it’s become a family outing, an experience when people enjoy nature together. It’s not specifically about the apples and sometimes it’s more about the views or the foliage or the walk taken together.”
In this scenario, Dunn describes the opportunity to see and smell the trees, to inhale the fresh air, experience the wildlife, the vistas and ponds; to touch and select the fruit, to pause for a game of horseshoes or bocce or traverse the ponds in a paddleboat or to sample homemade pies, turnovers and cider. He describes Alyson’s Orchard as a singular place, devoid of the amusement park approach taken at other growers’ places where every experience comes with a very real ticket price. “We do not charge admission to the orchard; you can bring a picnic lunch if you like, or in winter, bring your snowshoes or skis.”
Still, some mark their calendars for the early apples Ginger Gold, Paula Red or Sansa, while others seek the late bloomers, such as Northern Spy. Others in the know wait for another delectable crop — the Red Haven, Bright Star or Blushing Star peaches, the latter a prized white variety.
Dunn professes his devotion to keeping the orchard diverse and healthy — “farming is a cornerstone of America” — while confessing “growing fruit is not an exact science or an art form, but something in between. So many things can go wrong. A hail storm can take out an orchard in seconds and there’s no cure for tree-killing fire blight.”
Despite what Mother Nature can dish out, Dunn speaks enthusiastically about his plans to ramp up the educational component at the orchard, to bring in a vintage English cider press, to plant a new block of heirloom apples in 40 to 50 different varieties, to make known the lovely New Hampshire apple called Granite Beauty and the amazing choice of antique or vintage fruit varieties made possible by the grafts of wood stock from the University of New Hampshire.
Today, Bob and Susan Jasse live in a restored 1830s home in Walpole — a lovely hamlet also home to documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and the summer home of “Little Women” author Louisa May Alcott — where they oversee the harvests of their good earth that also encompasses a thriving lodging and events facility.
Alyson’s Orchard has received ample raves in the media, from the Boston Globe and Country Living to Meetings & Convention Magazine, and not only as a destination for seekers of wild places and delicious fruits. With Susan Jasse’s eye for fine cuisine and memorable events, the orchard has also evolved into a casual yet sophisticated center for reunions, gatherings, retreats and every weekend, one glorious wedding. Four properties within the copse of trees offers unforgettable accommodation and runs the gamut from the Rochambeau Lodge to the 1860 Caleb Foster Farmhouse and the cozy Martha’s Place.
Ever the dreamer and doer, Bob Jasse gives voice to his quest to capture the youthful bliss found in an apple orchard: “There has been a constant evolution here at Alyson’s Orchard and our dreams are being fulfilled.”
Alyson’s Orchard, Lodgings & Event Facility
57 Alyson’s Lane, Walpole
(800) 856-0549 • (603) 756-9800
This article appears in the March 2010 issue of New Hampshire Magazine