Spalding Guardian Gardening 19 January 2012
Our ‘orchard’ is a sad and motley affair. Planted in 1991-92, there are around twenty trees, mainly comprising ‘rescues’ from discount supermarkets and garden centre bonfires, with the addition of one or two decent specimens. Although they have served us well all these years, between the competition of the two shelter belts at either side and years of dry summers, the trees are well past their sell-by dates.
The plums, pears and quince, which were not throw-outs, are still thriving. We get more fruit than we can cope with and give loads away every autumn. The apples, however, are spindly and canker-ridden; because they were rescued they are mainly ‘Jonagold’ and ‘Spartan’, neither good-keeping varieties and certainly not my choice if I were to start again. Last year’s fruit was no bigger than crab apples and remained unpicked until they fell off and were cleared by the birds.
When time allows, we intend to give the orchard a major overhaul. There are soft fruit bushes that should have been scrapped years ago, and there isn’t one apple tree worth saving, but the plums and pears, with some thoughtful remedial pruning, are still worth hanging onto, for the time being, at least. We will not be ‘apple-less’, as there are two unnamed young trees in the arboretum, one budded from a nice seedling on the verge and the other from a very old apple tree that used to live in the garden at ‘Little Thatch’; these will see us through while we remove the orchard apples and allow the ground to rest for a couple of years before replanting.
When we do get round to restocking, my main intention is to go for quality rather than quantity and choose varieties that you won’t find in the supermarket. One that especially catches my eye is ‘Redlove Era’. This was recently bred by Markus Kobelt in Switzerland and is now available from Sutton’s Seeds of Torquay. It was apparently raised from red-fleshed and scab-resistant breeding lines, and both the skin and flesh are a lovely red colour, with a white pattern running through the centre. It has a high antioxidant content with 30-40% more antioxidants than an average apple -ideal for health-conscious fruit eaters. It is also a great ornamental tree, with long lasting, deep pink flowers in spring, and does not need a pollinator. The sweet flesh has a hint of berries, and although it is considered mainly an eating variety, it cooks well and retains the pinky-red colour.
At £24.99 it is not a cheap fruit tree, but its attributes make it well worth the additional expenditure. It certainly seems to fit the bill as far as the replanting of our orchard is concerned, and this will be the first on my list once the ground is ready. I intend to plant no more than three or four replacements; this will allow more space between the orchard and the shelter belts to reduce the competition and will be quite enough for our requirements. As to the other apple varieties, I’m still looking, but there’s no hurry.
This piece originally appeared in the Spalding Guardian