Getting inspired by our orchards

As the days are getting shorter and the weather more wintry, PLANT’s volunteer team of intrepid orchard surveyors is rushing to put final touches on their work for the National Orchard Survey for Scotland. We will be posting a full report on what we found in our assigned area, with a focus on some wonderful surprises in Tayport itself, very soon. In the meantime, we thought you’d enjoy some vignettes from our lovely volunteers: Julie, Emma, Jane and Kaska. Here they are, talking about their favourite orchard finds and impressions from surveys around Brunton, Newport and Tayport.

Julie: Children’s playground

A photo of fruit tree cordons at the Tayport Playgroup Garden

The Tayport Playgroup garden is a wonderful safe place for 2-3 year olds to grow flowers and vegetables, harvest and take home the produce, pick and eat raspberries and apples, look for frogs in the pond and worms in the soil and just run round having fun. As a volunteer I love to see the children learning these physical things, see their joy and excitement and hear them shout “I did it”.

Emma: Wildlife haven

A photo of an orchard wildlife corridor

The most inspiring orchard I surveyed was one of my neighbours at Brunton. They had planted 17 mixed fruit trees when they moved into the property about 15 years ago in one area which is now well developed and produces a good amount of fruit. Next door there is a sheltered corner for their bee hives, the trees are mixed in with fruit bushes and adjacent to a well-stocked vegetable patch.

My favourite part of their fruit tree plantings was an area they fenced off from their grazing animals. It is a belt around 100 metres in length, with a further 8 fruit trees in addition to other trees and bushes, including oaks. It is not mown and forms a great corridor for wildlife to move between a pond and the unmanaged hilly area beyond that. As there are no established hedges in the immediate vicinity and with lots of open grazing areas for animals, this corridor feels like a real wildlife haven. At the time of the survey, it was being prepared for another 2 beehives belonging to another neighbour (the 2 green plinths in the photo). I thought it was great that fruit trees were not just planted for the benefit of humans to eat the fruit, but to actually benefit the wider ecosystem.

The garden, veg patch and orchard areas are all managed organically, using compost and fertiliser produced within the smallholding and with as little machinery as possible. The design provides fantastic foraging opportunities for the whole family when out in the garden and this is one of the reasons I loved it so much. The children were out helping their Mum (chief orchard keeper!) when I visited and I think it is great that all these skills and knowledge will be passed down to the girls. The family love cooking with their produce, making fruit juices with their press. Whilst a lot of hours do go into it, the land really thrives and produces well for them.

Jane: Apple naming

(words in parentheses are quotes from orchard owners)

A photo of apple trees with apples on the groundLord Lambourne, James Grieve,
Charles Ross, Beauty of Bath,
Apples named.
Early fruit, fruit holding to branches in November late
Covering the whole season
With cookers and eaters
Green and smooth
Red and shining
Green and brown
Rough and sweet
Sour
Falling around the trees
Planted for love
“we love the blossom”
For hope
200 years ago, 31 years ago when we were young
“Cobnuts to remind me of my home”
In the SouthA photo of green apples on a tree
They never fruited
“Life gets in the way”
But
Un-managed, unloved, surrounded by weeds and fallen fruit
The trees grow anyway
An orchard
Once you know it is there
Protect it
Enjoy it
Count the trees
Name them
Eat the fruit.

Kaska: Fruitful in Scots style

Kitchen garden at Earlshall Castle

I first visited the gardens of Earlshall Castle at Leuchars three years ago when they were open to the public as a part of the Scottish Open Garden’s scheme. I was enchanted. So when I saw a chance to revisit it for an orchard survey this autumn there was no stopping me – this one was mine!

Once I read up on the place after my first visit I realised there was a reason to be impressed – Earlshall was the first commission by one of the greats of the Scots Arts and Crafts movement, Robert Lorimer. His 1890s design was originally inspired by the simple enclosed Scottish castle gardens of the 17th century but became “one of the most important gardens to twentieth-century gardeners, influencing designs of great gardens” across Britain.

While everyone, including the 1900s gardenista, Gertrude Jekyll, seems to be going on about the garden’s topiary, I was instead delighted by the perfect jumble of fruit, vegetables and flowers of its kitchen garden, effortlessly linking productivity and aesthetics. From my first May visit I remember being struck by the lovely lush green espalliers of ancient apples and pears surrounding the freshly cultivated soil in the four expansive veg plots, in turn framed by wide perennial borders bursting with promise of colourful summer display (see the photo above). An embodiment of Lorimer’s garden ideal, where the kitchen garden is just one of surprising “little gardens within a garden”:

The kitchen garden [is] nothing to be ashamed of, to be smothered away far from the house, but made delightful by its laying out. Great intersecting walks of shaven grass, on either side borders of the brightest flowers backed up by low espaliers hanging with shining apples.

During this year’s survey visit, I had the privilege of meeting the estate gardener, Nicky McIntire, who is a proud custodian of this space. Over the last decade or so she’s been applying her skills to help the current owner in restoring the neglected gardens to their previous glory. She told me how one important aspect of this restoration has been taking care of the apples trees: tending to the oldies from the original planting in 1890s, identifying their varieties, replenishing the plantings with grafts of the originals and by bringing in some carefully selected pre-1900s varieties. Apples permeate the whole place, currently standing at 155 trees of about 100 varieties (not to mention a host of other fruit trees and bushes). Now – that’s what I call a veritable treasury of apple and garden heritage! I am glad I got to know it better…

If you feel a little bit inspired by these stories yourself, and can spare a few hours over the next few months, we are still looking for a couple of volunteers in Tayport to finish up surveying all the new orchards we discovered around the town. Please contact Kaska on blog@tayportgarden.org or 01382 554 604 for more details.

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