This is a sunny, exposed, SW-facing slope at the top of our Wildflower Meadow, within view of the private part of the farmhouse. We are planting a 'United Kingdom of Apple Varieties' selected from England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland: At some 15m x 6m in size, we have made room for 21 standard fruit trees in a utilitarian grid formation some 3.5m apart. The Orchard has stock fencing and gates at the N and S ends, but each tree will also have a bespoke deer guard surrounding it. The area is surrounded by a hawthorn hedge planted in 2010/11 to offer shelter to the young trees. We wish we had planted this when we started the garden here a decade ago! We'd be eating the harvest by now - but, that's gardening for you.
With longevity and ease of maintenance foremost in our concerns,
we have opted for planting chiefly maiden apples (usually grafted
one or two year old trees) on MM106 rootstock.
This is described as a 'semi-vigorous' rootstock which should give
us 'classic' apple tree shapes of 3m height / spread within the
next 10-20 years. We hope it will suit our poor soil and rather
exposed position, needing minimal staking and pruning in the
longterm. In winter 2010 we planted the following trees in to
metre squares of manured and mulched ground, using mycorrhizal
fungi and bonemeal in the planting holes :
Apples: Brownlees Russet / Gravenstein / Duke of Devonshire / Mere de Menage / Monarch / Keswick Codlin / Hawthornden / Scotch Bridget / Cissy / Bardsey Island / St Cecilia / Pig Aderyn / Croen Mochyn / Monmouth Beauty
Pear: Snowdon Queen (a Welsh variety found half way up Snowdon the mountain, so it might like it here...) & Humbug (an Eastern European variety with striped markings)
In winter 2011/12 we will plant the last half dozen trees which will be mainly Irish in origin. Locals may like to join the South Lakes Orchard Group (who supplied our 'Scotch Bridget'!), and we found the Orange Pippin apple database very helpful too. Our trees were sourced mainly from 3 great nurseries: RV Roger, Gwynfor Growers & Irish Seedsavers.
Along the drystone wall we have the following species and 'wild'
Rosa rubus (a rambler) / Rosa moyesii 'Eos' / Rosa moyesii 'Hillierii' / Rosa x cantabrigiensis / Rosa foetida 'Bicolor' / Rosa moschata / Rosa omeiensis pteracantha
Karen Guthrie has lived and gardened on site since 2002. in 1979 she planted a pip from her teatime Golden Delicious apple in the back garden of her family home in Largs. The resulting tree is still there, we think.
The Orchard was rough meadow grass / reeds until it was fenced off by our stone-waller James Herd in 2010. We had observed over time that the moderate SW slope seemed to be one of the garden's sunniest spots, and that it was relatively fast to lose frost and warm up at either end of the season. Though the soil is very poor to start with, drainage was not bad due to the gradient of the ground. In winter / spring 2010 the planting areas were manured and rotivated before light-excluding carpet mulch was applied to kill weeds and encourage worms to draw down the manure. Not a fast way of doing things, but experience has taught us to prepare tree and shrub areas here fastidiously to get them off to a really strong start.
We chose hawthorn as a hedge to surround the orchard as it can quickly make a dense and twiggy shelter to slow down wind and protect the young fruit trees. It was planted across 2010/11 and has taken very well, making an average of 80cm growth in the first season - perhaps due to the use of newly-available beneficial fungi (mycorrhizal fungi) added to the planting holes.
It is very optimistic to plant an orchard anywhere - it's a good 5 years before you get a decent harvest event in a great spot, and who knows where we will be then... Up here on our wet and windy farm, you could say it's madness as even the wild crap apples in the forest struggle with frost, wind and the wet. But with climate change, who knows? There is also the fact that even the most unproductive orchards are beautiful nature reserves. And if I had followed gardening wisdom, I wouldn't have so much as put my spade into the ground at all when we started ten years ago....
When you start researching the present 'orchard renaissance' in England you swiftly find yourself amidst swathes of apple zealots promoting marginalised local varieties with splendid names such as Bloody Ploughman or Keswick Codlin. Worthy such historic preservation is we are also in the game of getting a decent crop of apples as well, so we decided to set up a nationwide orchard of varieties from Scotland, England (inc. local Cumbrian varieties), Ireland and Wales, all selected to suit our tough spot. We'll see what if any come out on top......
In winter 2011/12 we are planting a number of tough roses along
the drystone wall that marks the Eastern boundary of the Orchard.
These have been chosen mainly for scent and hips to extend the
interest of this area.
Drainage is a problem along the southern boundary closest to the stream, so 18 dogwoods (cornus alba) have been planted between stream and orchard to try and soak up some of the excess water there.