Thursday, 21 October 2010

Heritage Apples

Whilst we were in Cornwall last week we popped into the National Trust Garden at Cotehele, to give the dogs a walk and have some tea and delicious carrot cake. And we were also able to have a quick look at the recently planted Mother Orchard, well, fairly recent I think it's two or three years old, but the point is it's eight acres planted with all kinds of old traditional westcountry apple varieties. The kind you rarely see anymore, and which are in grave danger of dying out completely. It's quite staggering to realize that some English counties have lost almost all their traditional orchards, Devon for example has lost 95% of it's orchards since 1945. But it's not all bad news, and the establishment of the Mother Orchard at Cotehele is intended to provide cutting stock for other National Trust properties around the country which can then be used to bolster the numbers of these old cultivars.

It's often thought that apples won't grow well in the wet mild climate of the westcountry, or that they won't grow in the east because it's too and windy, or in the north because it's too cold, but there's an apple for all situations, and you just have to do a bit of research to find the best apple for your garden. Many of the ancient varieties are very local indeed, and are unknown in other parts of the country. Ashmeads Kernel is a great local Gloucestershire variety, or how about a Pigs Snout or a Devonshire Quarrenden, maybe a lovely old cider apple tree like Kill Boys (a particularly crispy variety said to have killed a boy, presumably as a missile, not poisoning one hopes - I feel an HSE warning coming on) or Hens Turds, (not recorded how it got it's name, thank goodness) There are thousands of known cultivars listed as grown in the UK, and many more are unlisted local varieties. I wonder then, why we can only buy about four or five from our supermarkets? Don't get me started...

The ground under old fruit trees was often tended by livestock, poultry, sheep, or pigs, giving extra benefits to the farmer and to the wider natural environment. I noticed however at Cotehele that they were trying out a more 21st century option

This little gadget was running around the place all on its own, cutting the grass, its area of activity defined by electronic markers under the grass, and when it ran out of energy it just goes back to the docking station to recharge itself. And then it sets off again, I could really do with one of these! Goodness knows what it must cost.

And finally I must mention the famous Cotehele Christmas garland, which they make every year from dried flowers grown on the estate and display in the Great Hall. I think it goes up about a month before Christmas. Quite magnificent, and well worth a visit.  Carrot cake's pretty good too.


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