Van Aken began the Tree of 40 Fruit project in 2008 and has been creating new trees and developing the process ever since. The artist had recently completed a project called Eden in which he grafted vegetables and flowers together and was offered the opportunity to design an orchard. "Ultimately funding for this orchard fell through," Van Aken explains to Gizmag. "But, still wanting to continue with the project, I decided to graft the entire orchard onto one tree."
The grafting process entails the collection of scions (young shoots or cuttings) from trees. These sections are then worked into similar sized cuts on the new tree and are bandaged. The cutting then "heals" into the tree and is able to draw water and nutrients from the tree in the same way as any other branch. The process is possible due to the similar chromosomal structure of stone fruit trees.
Among the fruits that Van Aken uses to create his trees are peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines and cherries. However, the artist says that the project opened his eyes to the vast number of stone fruit types that exist but that aren't used.
"As the project evolved and I discovered that there were hundreds, if not thousands, of varieties of stone fruit compared to the three or four varieties one would find at a local grocer, I realized that I could also use the Tree of 40 Fruit Project as a means to preserve these heirloom varieties," he says.
During spring, the trees blossom in variegated tones of pink, crimson and white. Each produces its variety of fruits during summer.