The Union Orchard occupies a sunny south west facing slope at the top of our Wildflower Meadow, within view of the warden’s cottage. We have planted 17 apples, 2 pears and 2 quince in a 15m x 6m grid, predominantly selecting from tried and tested old varieties from England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland. The fruit are mainly grafted onto M106 rootstocks, leading to mature trees of an easily picked scale. Over time, it's becoming clear that some varieties retain much more vigour than others though.
The Orchard has stock fencing and gates at the North and South ends. Each tree also had a plastic trunk guard surrounding it for the first few years as voles are an issue here, and for 4-5 years we kept tree bases free of grass with mulch mats. The Orchard is surrounded by a hawthorn hedge, planted to provide shelter for the young trees. No pesticides are used, but an annual potash feed in late winter and grease bands are applied. We underplant with more fritillary bulbs annually, and wildflowers proliferate in the long un-mown grass.
It is the height of horticultural long-sightedness and optimism to plant an orchard anywhere – it takes at least 5 years before you have any decent harvest, even in a benevolent spot. Which Lawson Park is certainly not. At a 200m altitude, a wet and windy farm feels particularly high risk, as even the wild crab apples in the forest struggle with frost, wind and the wet. But even the most unproductive orchards are beautiful, vital nature reserves. And if we had followed gardening wisdom, we wouldn't have so much as put a spade into the ground at all when we started.
When you start researching the present 'orchard renaissance' in the UK you swiftly find yourself amidst swathes of apple zealots promoting marginalised local varieties with names such as Bloody Ploughman or Keswick Codlin. Worthy as 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.
A selection of plants
Karen Guthrie, Adam Sutherland, Campbell Guthrie, Mee Homma & Ed Bailey
About the designers/maker/s
Karen Guthrie is an avid fruit grower and this now is her favourite spot at Lawson Park.
Adaptions / renovations
In winter 2011/12 we planted a number of resilient species 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. Since 2015 white-fringed campion has been underplanted here, and is now doing a bit too well.
Drainage was 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.
In 2017/18 mulch mats around the trees were removed to reduce the vigour of the now matured trees. The Welsh pear and the Humbug pear have both endured wired-down branches for several seasons in order to better shape the most vigorous branches and induce flowering wood to ripen, with some success, especialy on the latter.
In 2016 we put a bench in there, because it’s just a very beautiful place to sit.