Last October, we went in search of apples, to help us decide which varieties to plant in our garden. Gloucestershire is one of the busiest and best known counties for apples, with hundreds of apple day events taking place across the county; and so, armed with a list of events from the Gloucestershire Orchard Group, we hopped across the bridge for a day. The most useful visit was to the farmers’ market in Stroud, which was bustling with life, and full of wonderful colourful stalls. Several were overflowing with crates of local apples, including one run by the friendly faces of Day’s Cottage. Despite the bustling crowds, Dave from Day’s Cottage kindly took time to chat to us about different apple varieties, rootstocks and grafts and we tasted slivers of his different fruits. We bought several bagsfull of our favourite contenders, and back at home we tasted and took notes and ranked them, ending up with a list of four different varieties that we wanted to grow.
These were the late-fruiting and good storing Ingrid Marie, Kidds Orange Red and Spartan and the early Beauty of Bath, which we were too late in the season to taste.
But where and how to grow them, in a garden that was still in flux with building work? We decided to start with two espaliers, bounding two edges of the patch designated as the raspberry patch. We ordered two partly trained espaliers (little more than maiden whips, really, with two potential tiers in place) in adjacent pollination groups: Kidds Orange Red and Beauty of Bath. In the cool of winter, we planted them in the ground, bordering the square that held our three rows of newly planted raspberry canes.
In the spring a scattering of deep pink blossoms appeared on both tree forms. Then at the beginning of May we noticed a small green and pink bump that appeared on the lowest tier of the Kidds Orange Red tree.
We were thrilled – obviously we had chosen our plants from neighbouring pollination groups, but it was still a moment of excitement that these two trees would successfully cross-pollinate each other. And although we didn’t intend to let the trees set fruit so young, we were intrigued by this single fruit – surely it wouldn’t hurt to let one develop?
All summer long we watched as the fruit swelled; deep pink mottling and russet streaks forming upon its skin.
I was terrified that the wind would knock it off, that the birds would take to it and tear it to pieces, that the stem would rot and throw this one solitary fruit to the ground; but it held on through the summer, through wind and rain, each day it gleamed like a jewel on the sparse frame of its tree…
October came, and still it clung on; each day I checked on it, and now and then gave it a tentative twist to see if it was ready to eat. I drove off flies and caterpillars that had the temerity to cross its surface. A small brown hole appeared in the side, some of the leaves were chewed, but the fruit appeared otherwise undamaged.
The last day of October came, and so we picked our apple; twisting it gently until it dropped into our waiting hands. We carried it into the house, washed it, and shared it between us after tea. Our first homegrown apple.
I am looking forward to enjoying many more of these in the years to come as the trees form their framework and produce more fruit, also to trying the Beauty of Bath apples. And now we just need to decide where we can squeeze in more espaliers or cordons… or perhaps a small tree in the middle of the front lawn?