Traditional English Orchards

Today I visited a number of fruit tree planting sites around Woodbridge, Suffolk.  This was after attending the Saturday farmers market, where my mind may have been turned toward all things apple by purchasing a bottle of James Grieve apple juice for morning tea!  Many areas of the UK have distinct agricultural and horticultural traditions.  While we tend to think of orchards as massive plantings of hundreds or thousands of trees, there are only 3-4 counties of England where this is common.  In the rest, orchards tend to be smaller groupings of 5-15 trees arranged around or near a farmhouse.  Often each tree is different, which provides the farmhouse with a range of fruits across the season.

Bramley Seedling planted on public land by Transition Woodbridge

There are a range of great local and national groups that support orchards and heirloom apple varieties across the country.  For instance, the Suffolk Traditional Orchard Group have a range of aims, including to

  • record and protect old orchard sites;
  • promote the new planting of traditional orchard fruit and nut varieties; and
  • preserve and disseminate the practice, cultural and historical value of orchards through education and publication

Suffolk has its own unique named varieties of fruit trees, particularly apples like the St Edmund’s Russet (pre-1875), Maclean’s Favourite (1820), Lady Henniker (c. 1845), Lord Stradbroke (c. 1900), Catherine (pre 1900), Old Blake (pre 1900)

Here are some of the collection of STOG working notes – resources which may not be applicable depending on your soils and climate, but which provide a great base for overall understanding of many of the principles of orcharding.

You can find out about orchards all over England through the Orchard Network of the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, who list links to local groups and have an Orchard Network webpage.

Since I’m staying in Suffolk right now, I have been looking at some plantings carried out by Transition Woodbridge.

Espaliered apples & pears planted by Transition Woordbridge near public housing playground
Transition Woodbridge food forest planting

For locals looking for trees of the right heritage, there are several well organised sources of supply, including the East of England Apples and Orchards project, which is a charity aimed at preserving old orchards, creating new ones and having people plant varieties traditional to their local county.  Check out their 2017 fruit tree catalogue and you can see how easy it could be to grow a range of heirloom varieties in your local garden.