Aken was raised on a farm and he bought an orchard in New York that was in danger of being shut down. In the process he saved many rare varieties of fruit and started experimenting with hybridizing the trees to create his Tree of 40 Fruit. He created the tree by grafting parts of many different kinds of fruit trees onto a single tree. The grafted branches grow to become part of the main tree but produce different fruit, as well as a mosaic of multi-coloured blossoms in the spring that are a sight to behold.
“First and foremost I see the tree as an artwork,” Van Aken says “I want the tree to interrupt and transform the everyday. When the tree unexpectedly blossoms in different colours, or you see these different types of fruit hanging from its branches, it not only changes the way you look at it, but it changes the way you perceive things in general.”
Thus far the artist has grown 16 of these magical trees that are dispersed throughout the country in museums, community centres and private art collections. Van Aken is now working on plans to grow a small orchard of his fantastical trees in New York City.