Alistair did a nice new site map for the NGS day, featuring a sketch of the "Future Orchard" at the top of our Wildflower Meadow. This is currently just a mown stock-fenced paddock with 24 blobs of mulch set at regular intervals where this coming winter we will plant some very young fruit 'maidens' (as young grafted apple plants are known).
As with all good childcare we'll then ignore them for the best part of a decade - before (we hope) realising they have turned out rather well and enjoying the fruits of our labours.
For now - like all fanatical gardeners I am already working on next year - I am sourcing the 24 trees, 6 of the most altitude, wind and rain-proof varieties from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.
So far I have:
'Scotch Bridget' - a locally grafted specimen, she does well in Cumbria I am told
'Gravenstein', 'Brownlees Russet', 'Duke of Devonshire' (Bred at nearby Holker), 'Mere de Menage', 'Monarch', 'Keswick Codlin' and 'Hawthornden' - from the lovely R V Roger Northern fruit specialists
From Irish Seed Savers I'll be ordering 'Yellow Pitcher', 'April Queen', 'Cavan Sugar Cane', 'Kemp' and 'Keegan's Crab' which apparently isn't a crab.
Finally, Wales will be represented by 'Cissy', 'Bardsey', 'St Cecilia', 'Pig Aderyn', 'Croen Mochyn' and a 'Snowdon Queen' pear - yes a pear, found at 1000' on the slopes of Snowdon!
As the nice man at supplier Gwynfor Growers says "that should love Coniston!'
Thanks to the heroic endevours of our new land intern Ed Bailey we have finally got around to preparing the unlikely looking bit of land at the top of our SW-facing meadow, which will become a small orchard next year...Inspired by planting a wall of fruit at Abbey Gardens in London a few weeks ago, and by thinking 'If we'd planted an orchard when we first moved in here we'd be eating apples by now!'
The site will be a challenging one -200m above sea level, and rather exposed if sunny, so I'll also plant a surrounding hedge inside the dear-dissuading stock fencing - probably hawthorn as it's so twiggy and in leaf so early too. Much as I fancy shaped espaliers and fans they'd be decidely out of place up here and - more seriously - I know that with the emphasis on labour-saving we are best to choose the standard tree shape, below which -in the future - animals can graze and people can picnic.
Being organic, our ground prep (the meadow was cropped a few months ago by some hungry Exmoor ponies and is usually maintained for wildflower interest) consists of rotivating (now) the hedge-line and a 1m square for each tree (they should eventually reach circa 3m in height each) about 3.5m apart. We'll then spread a thick layer of well-rotted cow manure on this newly exposed soil, then cover with a light-excluding mulch of carpet or plastic, and let nature do the rest for the next 8 or 9 months. Then next winter I'll have a fork about under the mulch and we should see a decent if thin top soil level to plant into in Feb / March time.
I now have the delectable task of trawling through books and websites to choose the toughest apples I can find - I've decided to create the United Appledom of Grizedale by choosing 6 varieties each from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland - and by all accounts for the rare ones you need to get your orders for next winter in now. I'll be looking for early ripening varieties, and ones from the wetter parts of those countries. Any variety recommendations welcome!