Now's the time to find your perfect apples
It's widely believed that apples have been around since Adam was a lad, and they've always had a place in my gardens, not for the historic connection, but the sheer joy of growing them and the delicious contribution they make to the home menu.
No wonder they’re celebrated at top garden attractions throughout the land as autumn closes in.
We’re on the threshold of nature’s planting time so there’s never been a better opportunity to get out, sample different varieties and decide which is best for you.
Garden centres are on-the-ball with labelling, but if you visit an orchard this is not always so. More often than not, there’s a gnarled old tree with an apple that catches the eye and the label is missing.
Such was the case at Parceval Hall in the Yorkshire Dales recently. A stately specimen was dripping with large green fruit, but it could have been any of several cooking cultivars. Oh for one of the three reference books I reach for at home.
The Apples of England, by H.V Taylor, has useful colour plates. The English Apple, by Rosanne Sanders, is an RHS publication with superb watercolours and a cross-section of each fruit. This shows the outline shape and defining central cavity with seeds. Just like human fingerprints, these are unique to each variety. The Book of Apples, by Morgan and Richards, is a Brogdale Horticultural Trust publication based on the 2,000 varieties grown at its station in Kent.
If you wish to identify a particular apple, the chances are that it will be described in one of these tomes, and will have been purchased from a relatively limited choice at a specialist nursery. There are 7,000 different named varieties in existence.
At the RHS Harlow Carr garden we found a dozen or so apple cultivars, two of which stood out as heritage varieties – Keswick Codlin, 1793, and King of the Pippins, early 19th century. These dates represent the time they were introduced to the UK market. Occasionally they existed under other names abroad. For example, King of the Pippins was called Golden Winter Pearmain and in 1770’s France was known as Reine des Reinettes.
If cultivating heritage apples is of interest, there are a few to browse over the entrance in Roots and Shoots at the Alnwick Garden. Planted five years ago, they’re coming along well.
You won’t find Dog’s Snout, Cockpit Improved, or Herring’s Pippin in the supermarket, and that’s the whole point. How good it is to grow a piece of living history.
One label that is bound to catch the eye is Isaac Newton’s Tree. This is the apple that allegedly fell on his head and concentrated his thoughts on gravity. He moved to his mother’s home in Grantham in 1666, and the tree stood in her garden.
I recently held a fruit, the offspring of that famous tree, in my hand. It was large and solid. Ouch!