Friday, January 29, 2010

National Trust orchard training day at Day's Cottage: A tour of the orchards

Yesterday I went to Day's Cottage in Brookthorpe near Gloucester for an orchard training day. It was hosted by Dave Kaspar (GOG chairman) and Helen Brent-Smith at their Orchard Skills Centre on behalf of the National Trust. The day started with a tour of the orchards, the oldest of which was planted by Helen's great aunt in 1912. In this picture Dave is explaining that this dead tree is the most important tree in the orchard from an ecological viewpoint, due to the value of standing dead wood for invertebrates and the things that feed on them. As you can imagine, I was in my element!

This Newton Wonder apple tree was blown over only recently, but it is far from doomed. The tree will respond to this stress by putting out more roots and over time it will gradually re-align its canopy. I think it is healthy to encourage a more Victorian perspective on tree beauty, where the gnarls and warpings of time are celebrated and admired.

We also visited an old perry pear orchard which had several trees about 150 years old. We were shown how pear trees have very obvious graft marks even in old age. Perry pears have been recorded to live over 350 years, far longer than any apple. Dave explained how they are best left to their own devices and he regularly advises people not to try and prune them. I think the tree pictured is the variety Butt.

They have about 16 acres of orchards around the site that are being managed very sensitively for wildlife with mistletoe, bird and bat boxes, standing dead wood and no chemical inputs. This tree in the foreground has been toppled for a lot longer, and you can see it has recovered its posture quite admirably and still produces fruit. It reminds me of the Blenheim Orange trees at Mount Pleasant.

This is the museum orchard that was started around 15 years ago in partnership with Gloucestershire council and the GOG as a bank of Gloucestershire apple varieties. New varieties are still being found by people like Charles Martell so it's an ongoing project but it is old enough for the trees to be starting to take off. It's so exciting to think of returning in twenty years to see an established orchard and for an apple off each tree...

Here is my friend Freddie, a longstanding volunteer with the Charingworth Orchard Trust and Tanya, a beekeeper with her own company called Apples and Pears. We were pretty pleased to be able to purchase some perry for tasting later on!

The loot. Mistletoe for seeding at home, a perry pear maiden of the variety 'Bergamy' ("pronounce carefully") and superior grog.

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