When I first took the plot I’m on now, I was keen to get a row of cordon fruit trees in as soon as possible. I took up an offer by Pomona Fruits for a mini orchard, and, to give it its due, the six trees have grown strongly and all, apart from the Victoria Plum, fruit okay. But with the best will in the world none of them are in the slightest bit ‘events.’
The ‘Red Windsor’, ‘Falstaff’ and ‘Scrumptious’ all crop well (after a hiccup with Falstaff, which resulted in it dropping all its leaves one season – I thought I’d lost it, but it was fine the next year) but they all taste no better than supermarket apples.
I was especially disappointed with ‘Scrumptious’, I’d never, ever plant that again. It’s woolly, soft and pappy. Its only saving grace is that it crops heavily so I can at least have rubbish, supermarket-quality apples for longer before having to pay for rubbish supermarket apples. Oh, and the apples are uniform, bright red and very shiny, making them perfect decoys for scrumpers. They’re welcome to them.
Cherry ‘Summer Sun’ is okay – I only get eight fruits a year, but they taste lovely. Pear ‘Concorde’ is perfectly adequate – neither unpleasant nor stunning.
If I were starting my event allotment from scratch, however, I wouldn’t give house room to any of the above.
After four years of a row of beans, I’ve decided the land could be more productive. I’ve got beans elsewhere and there are only so many I (or my neighbours) can eat, so I grubbed out the lot and planned another row of cordons. This time I was taking no chances.
I went to an Apple Day at Brogdale, the National Fruit Collection. It’s held every autumn, but they also have daily tours and I really, really recommend you do some research.
I lucked-out – I got talking to Peter, a volunteer who’s obsessed with apples. When he found I was looking to populate my new row with the very best he took me and my pal Paul on a private tour testing apples, all the time honing down exactly what we were looking for. I cannot thank him enough – I wish I’d got his email so I could say a special thank you.
We tested so many apples we felt like Dennis the Menace after a scrumping session, but came up with six stunning apples:
Ribston Pippin. Anything called a ‘pippin’ means it was discovered growing from a pip. This one dates back to 1708, and is rumoured to be one of the parents of a Cox’s Orange Pippin. I prefer Ribston. It’s not a beautiful apple – a weird mix of brown, yellow, red, green, russet and orange, which makes it look a bit ‘overblown’ even before it’s fully ripe. It’s irregularly shaped and sometimes a bit lumpy looking. But it tastes great. Sweet, lightly ‘pear-y’ and nicely crisp.
Claygate Pearmain. Anything called ‘pearmain’ means it has a pear-y shape. It was discovered growing in a hedgerow at Claygate in Surrey in 1821. It’s a russet (I adore russet apples) and usually has a little pink blush where the sun catches it. It’s nutty and dense, and I loved it, but I also love the fact that it keeps well, so I can put it away and continue to have events right into spring.
Golden Russet of Western New York. I was hoping to keep to UK varieties but this brown russet was just so fabulous I couldn’t leave it out. There’s honey in there, almonds, lemons – I just loved it. It is, apparently, a very light cropper, but I’m in this for the event. If there are just a few apples on this but they take me to paradise for a few minutes, I’m happy to take the hit. Again, it’s not a looker – but that may keep it safe from scrumpers. They’re welcome to my bright-red, shiny, perfect-in-everything-but-flavour Scrumptious apples…
Chivers Delight. This one’s quite well known, and for good reason. It’s attractive looking, sweet, crisp and it keeps really well.
Adams Pearmain. Gossip tells a famous supermarket brand commissioned a ‘millennial apple’ they could name after themselves and sell for the year 2000. This performed best in taste tests, and it was all set to go until the marketing department said it wasn’t good looking enough. Shame on them. This is a superb apple. If I could only choose one of these trees, it would be this one. I absolutely love it. It is, apparently, a rip-off of the 1826 Norfolk Pippin. I don’t care – this is fantastic. It tastes very russet-y but looks like a regular apple, even if it is too ‘conical’ for a certain supermarket’s tastes…
Hubbards Pearmain. This pearmain dates back to Norfolk, sometime before 1800. It’s a really lovely, and great for my purposes, a really late eater, slightly russeted with a gorgeous nutty flavour. I’ve had no success whatsoever in buying this, so I’ll have to wait to next year, but now I’ve tasted it I HAVE to have it on my plot.
I bought my 1 year-old maidens from Keepers Nursery, and so far, I’m very pleased.
I had to take out the beanpoles, affectionately known as ‘the goalposts’ but apart from that, the soil was pretty much ready. I’m not putting them on the slant – I’d like to, but it would make access to the rest of the plot difficult. They’ll be just fine upright, slightly zig-zagged for space.
It’s worth noting that due to the unseasonably warm weather, the planting season’s going to be very short this year. The trees didn’t drop their leaves until very late and they’re already bursting to go again. If you’re planning to get some bare-root trees in, do it now..
Now all I have to do is wait. Tum-ti-tum….
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