Community orchard is maturing nicely

Some of the enthusiastic Bull Field Community Orchard volunteers from Alnwick Area Friends of the Earth.
Some of the enthusiastic Bull Field Community Orchard volunteers from Alnwick Area Friends of the Earth.
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I love the idea of community orchards – a green oasis amongst houses that raises everyone’s spirits and delivers fruits for all.

There’s one at the entrance to Lowick, visited whilst Northumbria in Bloom judging. A sure sign of environmental awareness and voluntary input, it left a lasting impression.

There was no hesitation then when invited to join enthusiastic volunteers from Alnwick Area Friends of the Earth for a fruit tree prune-in at their Bull Field Community Orchard. The impressive project is showing signs of maturity after five years’ existence. Medlar, walnut, apple, pear and cherry were instantly recognisable.

It was not the best of days to demonstrate fruit tree pruning, with a strong breeze, rain and an intensely cold wind. So well done the seven hardy souls who turned out, listened patiently, and got on with the job.

It began with a note of caution to avoid cherry and plum tree pruning in winter. Cuts and abrasions to the bark allows entry to the silver leaf disease pathogen. Summer is a better time to tackle them.

We concentrated on the apples, recognising pointed buds that lead to growth and the rounded, plump type that open to reveal flowers, and hopefully fruit. This is important because a few varieties develop fruit on the extremities of shoots and over-pruning them would reduce the harvest. Bramley’s Seedling, Blenheim Orange, Worcester Pearmain, Granny Smith and Lord Lambourne are typical tip-bearers.

After the briefest of masterclasses, the volunteers took to pruning likes ducks to water. Perhaps they were proficient to begin with and invited me along out of kindness.

Evidence of this warmth continued with the planting of a cherry tree, a memorial to Keith Richardson, an active Friends of the Earth member who died last year.

A touching ceremony followed. Bread slices were placed on a branch and cider fermented from last year’s apple crop was poured over for the birds. Lisa read an ancient Wassail blessing to all the trees.

It went something like this: “Huzzar, huzzar in our good town, the bread shall be white and the liquor be brown. So here my old fellow I drink to thee, and the very health of each other tree. Well may ye blow, well may ye bear, blossom and fruit both apple and pear. So that every bough and every twig, may bend with a burden both fair and big. May ye bearers and yielders fruits such as store, that the bags and chambers and house run o`er.”

• Robert Jamieson, head gardener at Howick Hall, is at the Garden Club on Tuesday, at 7.30pm, in Alnwick Garden Pavilion. Visitors welcome.