Category Archives: Fruit

John Parkinson’s Autumn Fruits

1. The true Service tree 2. The ordinary Service tree 3. The common Medlar tree 4. The Medlar of Naples 5. The Nettle tree 6. The Pishamin or Virginia Plumme 7. The Cornell Cherry tree  From Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris by John Parkinson (Getty Research Institute)

It’s astonishing to see, in the section devoted to the orchard in John Parkinson’s horticultural reference book Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris (1629), the wide range of fruits available in England in the early 17th century.  Some of these, such as apples, pears, plums and even quinces are familiar to us – but others like Cornelian cherries, medlars and service berries are no longer grown so widely, or seen for sale today.

Alongside his notes about cultivation, Parkinson also records how these fruits were prepared and processed both for use in the kitchen, and for medical purposes.  As a founder member of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries, Parkinson was well placed to advise on issues of health.  His detailed notes are a reminder of the importance of the garden as a source of medicine, as well as sustenance.

John Parkinson’s botanical garden in Long Acre, close to Covent Garden, has long since disappeared beneath modern London.  But the combination of these coloured woodcuts, mostly by the German artist Christopher Switzer, and Parkinson’s own observations about the plants he collected and grew there, brings his garden to life again.

Here follow just a few examples of ‘fruitbearing trees and shrubbes’ known to Parkinson, taken from the Getty Research Institute’s digitised version of the book with its spectacular coloured illustrations.

1. The true Service tree 2. The ordinary Service tree

Parkinson notes that two varieties of service tree, a close relation of the rowan, were considered to have berries that were edible and were cultivated in orchards.  According to Parkinson, the ‘ordinary Service tree’ was introduced by John Tradescant and bears fruits shaped ‘some round like an Apple, and in others a little longer like a Peare’.   These fruits are ‘mellowed’, like medlars, before eating:

‘They are gathered when they growe to be neare ripe (and that is never before they have felt some frosts) and being tyed together, are either hung up in some warme room, to ripen them thoroughly, that they may bee eaten or, (as some use to doe) lay them in strawe, chaffe, or branne to ripen them.’

7. The Cornell Cherry tree

The Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas), or Cornell tree as Parkinson calls it, is shown both bearing fruit and a cluster of small, yellow flowers which appear in early spring.  He records that the cherries are popular when in season, but appears not wholly convinced as to their flavour:

‘the fruit are long and round berries, with the bignesse of small Olives, with an hard round stone within them, like unto an Olive stone, and are of a yellowish red when they are ripe, of a reasonable pleasant taste, yet somewhat austere withall.’

1. The small blacke Grape 2. The great blew Grape 3. The Muscadine Grape 4. The burler Grape 5. The Raysins of the sunne Grape 6. The Figge tree 7.

These splendid bunches of grapes represent just a fraction of the varieties known to cultivation in England the early 17th century.  Parkinson records that his friend, John Tradescant has twenty varieties growing in his Lambeth garden, but cannot put a name to all of them.  As an apothecary, Parkinson mentions multiple uses for products derived from the vine in the treatment of illness, from wine, to vine leaves and raisins:

‘Wine is usually taken both for drinke and for medicine, and is often put into sawces, broths, cawdles and gellies that are given to the sicke.  Also into divers Physicall drinkes to be as a vehiculum for the properties of the ingredients.’

‘The greene leaves of the Vine are cooling and binding, and therefore good to put among other herbes that make gargles and lotions for sore mouths.  And also to put into the broths and drinke of those that have hot burning feavers, or any other inflammation.’

Parkinson reports that raisins and currants were imported into England in huge quantities, to be used in cooking and eaten on their own, and that the producers of these dried fruits were amazed at how many were consumed.  He says that the evocatively named Raysins of the Sunne ‘are the best dryed grapes, next unto the Damasco, and are very wholsome to eate fasting, both to nourish, and to helpe loosen the belly.’

1. The Quince tree 2. The Portingall Quince 3. The Peare tree 4. The Winter Bon Chretien 5. The painted or striped Peare of Jerusalem 6. The Bergomot Peare 7. The Summer Bon Chretien 8. The best Warden 9. The pound Peare 10. The Windsor Peare 11. The Gratiola Peare 12. The Gilloflower Peare

Today, we enjoy the smell of quinces and it’s noted how the perfume from one fruit can fill a room.  Parkinson also remarks on this feature of the quince, but interestingly the ‘strong heady sent’ he records is considered ‘not wholsome, or long to be endured’.  However, he reveals great enthusiasm for the quince as a culinary ingredient which is eaten raw when ripe, pickled all year round, baked as a ‘dainty dish’ and preserved as ‘Marmilade, Jelly and Paste’.  He also records quinces preserved in sugar which were given as gifts:

‘.. being preserved whole in Sugar, either white or red, serve likewise, not onley as an after dish to close up the stomacke, but is placed among other Preserves by Ladies and Gentlewomen, and bestowed on their friends to entertain them, and among other sorts of Preserves at Banquets.’

At his time of writing, Parkinson records six types of quince grown in England – but the varieties of pear far exceed this.  As ever, in this period, there is an overlap between the nutritional and medical value of both quinces and pears, which Parkinson says are the only two fruits that should be eaten by people who are unwell:

‘And indeede, the Quince and the Warden are the two onely fruits are permitted to the sicke, to eate at any time.’

As well as being eaten fresh, pears were dried, baked and roasted, and the juice of ‘choke pears’ which were too bitter to eat, made into perry.

In the final pages of his book, a useful index matches medical symptoms with plant remedies, and supplies other information, such as recipes for making colour dyes and keeping garments free from moths.

There’s a link to Parkinson’s text below – a treasure trove for anyone interested in the uses of plants, and the systems of medical beliefs in 17th century England.

A Table of the Vertues and Properties of the Hearbes contained in this Booke

Further reading:

Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris, or, A garden of all sorts of pleasant flowers: which our English ayre will permitt to be noursed up: with a kitchen garden of all manner of herbes, rootes & fruites for meate or sauce used with us; and, an orchard of all sorte of fruitbearing trees and shrubbes fit for our land; together with the right orderinge, planting and preserving of them and their uses and vertues (1629) John Parkinson
– digital version from Getty Resarch Institute here

John Parkinson on Wikipedia here

Martin Gerlach’s Festoons

Festoon made from vegetables and beets, from Festons und Decorative Gruppen aus Pflanzen und Theiren, or, Festoons and decorative groups of Plants and Animals, published in Vienna in 1893 by Martin Gerlach. Images courtesy of the Museum für Kunst und Gerwerbe, Hamburg

These festoons with their sumptuous cascades of ripe fruits and fragrant roses suspended from a striped silk ribbon resemble at first glance sections of stone ornament, or plaster moulding.  But closer inspection reveals the roses to be cabbages, the delicious looking fruits are in fact beetroots and onions, the elaborate silk bow is a curtain cord, and a wooden finial has been pressed into service as a classical-looking prop, hiding the ends of plant stems at the top of the arrangement.

All the festoons, swags, garlands and other embellishments in Festons und Decorative Gruppen aus Pflanzen und Theiren, or, Festoons and decorative groups of Plants and Animals, are constructed using similarly inventive combinations of flowers, vegetables, taxidermy and domestic objects.  Published in Vienna in 1893 by Martin Gerlach, this book of elaborate photographic collages was intended both as reference and inspiration for artists working across a range of crafts using pattern, from wood carving, plaster work, textiles, illustration and wallpaper design.

Judging by the seasonality of the plant materials Gerlach used, the photographs were taken over the course of many months.  Early spring blossoms of apple and cherry with nesting birds give way to the lilac, roses and hollyhocks of summer, while autumn provides a profusion of gourds, sweetcorn, grapes, apples and pumpkins.  Winter is represented by arrangements of pine cones and stuffed squirrels placed amongst evergreen conifer branches.

Some of the most effective designs use only leaves – the winding stems of creeping cinquefoil form a delicate narrow border, while larger sprigs of oak leaves and acorns could be imagined as infill sections for fabric or wallpaper.  Peony flowers and leaves carefully spaced over a diamond grid background would have been helpful for an artist designing a repeat pattern.

Garlands of citrus fruits are shown in half-sections, the smaller fruits at the edges, gradually increasing in size towards the middle.  Some of the most elaborate festoons include tools and musical instruments – in one example a gardener’s spade intersects with a watering can, while a straw basket (or maybe an upturned straw hat?) overflows with produce, celebrating the bounty of harvest.

From the middle of the 19th century photographers such as Adolphe Braun (1812 – 1877) and Charles Aubry (1811 – 1877) saw a commercial opportunity to produce still life studies of flowers as reference material for artists.  Although photographs could not entirely replace living specimens, it must have been an immense advantage to be able to see forms of flowers, their leaves and the growing patterns of stems and branches throughout the year, especially in winter, when it was not possible to observe these from life.  Gerlach produced a number of reference books in this genre, including plant forms, trees, examples of wrought iron and other architectural details.

Martin Gerlach (1846 – 1918) was born in Hanau, Germany and trained as an engraver.  He established a jewellery business in the 1860s but this enterprise was unsuccessful.  Having become interested in photography, Gerlach started a publishing house in the 1870s in Berlin which produced his reference books and a crafts magazine, Die Perle.  He re-located his company to Vienna in 1872 and continued his work there, eventually publishing more than forty books about design and a series of books for children including songs, poems and fairytales.

By the end of the 19th century decorative motifs like those celebrated in Festons und Decorative Gruppen, and popular in Europe since Roman times, were soon to be swept away by new ideas and fashions associated with Modernism.  Today Gerlach’s plant and vegetable festoons and garlands have almost a contemporary feel to them – it’s not hard to imagine a photographer inspired, perhaps, by carvings or plaster work in a historic house, deciding to re-create them with real materials as a post-modern photographic project.  More than one hundred years after publication, this collection of images continues both to inspire and document the complex role of photography in design.

Links to source materials below:

Festoons and decorative groups of plants and animals by Martin Gerlach, Vienna. Gerlach & Schenk

Festoons and still lifes made from sunflowers, mallow, lilies, vegetables, paradise apples, melons, radishes, peppers, crabs, goblets, grapes, bottles, hay, etc

Festoon made of chestnuts, fruits, medallion and bird

Frieze and festoons made from pumpkins, medlar leaves, corn, etc

Frieze, festoons and vignette made of hazelnut, oak, grapes, pumpkins, paradise apple, Kukuk, etc

Group of apple blossoms with birds

Group of cherry plum and almond blossoms with a bird

Group of apple blossoms with medallion

Group of apple blossoms with butterflies

Infill and festoon of apple blossoms with fruits, orange branch with fruits and kingfisher

Festoons made from thorn blossom, lilac, garlic and pomegranate

Infill and festoon made from laurel, lemon and orange with butterflies

Groups of plums and Reine-Claude branches

Festoon groups made of quince, sweet chestnut, tulip tree fruit, lemons, pumpkin, pomegranate

Festoons made from vegetables, beets, cereals and garden tools

Threads made of grapes, apple of paradise and hops

Festoons made of musical instruments, palms, pomegranates, lemons, grapes, pumpkins, bay leaves, quinces, corn, coconuts, etc

Decorative stripes and threads made of roses with mask, shell and medallion

Hanging groups of pumpkins and cucumbers

Vignettes made of roses, sign, bottle, palette, palm and mallow

Borders and still lifes made of house leek, carrion flowers, orchids, water lilies, grapes, crabs, lobsters, fish, mussels, reeds, vessels, musical instruments, books, sheet music, laurel etc

Hanging groups and moldings made of thorn, peonies (seed pods), blackberries, marshmallow, mountain ash and apples

Festoon, vignette and group of coconuts, quinces, corn, animal skulls and conifers with birds

Frieze, group and decorative strip of laurel, animal skulls and butterflies

Group of hazelnut branches with squirrels

Festoons and conifer infill with fox heads and squirrels

Trims and infill made of strawberry, cypress and oak (note: I think the plant at the top of the photograph is actually cinquefoil which has strawberry-like fruits)

Groups of peonies

Friezes made from firethorn fruit, silver spruce, aralia, silver bush and trout

Group of acanthus

Further reading:

Festons und Decorative Gruppen aus Pflanzen und Theiren – pages from the book digitized by the MK&G here

Martin Gerlach on Wikipedia here

Gerlach’s photographs are collotypes – Wikipedia definition here

The Photographer in the Garden (EastmanMuseum/Aperture) here

Pruning Pears with William Forsyth

William Forsyth (1737 – 1804) stipple engraving by Samuel Freeman (Wellcome Institute Collection)

When William Forsyth published his Treatise on the culture and management of fruit trees in 1802 he had been gardener to King George III for eighteen years, during which time he was credited with the transformation of the royal orchards at Kensington Palace.  His experimental pruning techniques rejuvenated the Palace’s old fruit trees making them productive once more.  Forsyth was also celebrated for his invention of a dressing for damaged trees, which was believed to assist in restoring them to good health.

Before his royal appointment, William Forsyth already had a prestigious career in horticulture.  Born in Aberdeenshire, Forsyth re-located to London to train at the Chelsea Physic Garden under another Scottish gardener, Philip Miller (1691 – 1777), eventually becoming head gardener there in 1771.  He took up the position of superintendent of the royal gardens at Kensington Palace and St James’s Palace in 1784.  The now familiar garden shrub forsythia was named for him and he is an ancestor of the late entertainer, Bruce Forsyth.

William Forsyth’s employment brought him to the attention of the English establishment, who saw his work in the royal gardens.  They were impressed by his success with the King’s fruit trees, and persuaded by the efficacy of his ‘composition’ or remedy for damaged trees.  Against the background of the Napoleonic Wars when access to good timber was essential, the composition was discussed in both houses of Parliament and the recipe published in the national interest.  It was printed in local newspapers across the country to encourage landowners across England to adopt it for the health of their forest trees.

This dressing, or ‘composition’ as Forsyth called it, was made out of cow dung, lime plaster (‘that from the ceilings of rooms is preferable’), wood ashes and sand.  It was applied to tree wounds after careful preparation of the surface, first removing any dead or diseased wood.  Gradually, the damaged area was restored and covered over by new bark.

In his book, Forsyth explains how his work with trees started.  As the new gardener to the royal family in 1784, Forsyth was expected to produce abundant and tasty fruits for the royal tables, but when he arrived at Kensington Palace he was faced with a dilemma.

The gardens contained dozens of fruit trees, some large orchard trees, dwarf standard trees, and others wall trained, but the trees were old and had stopped bearing well.  He observes the pear trees are ‘in a very cankery and unfruitful state’, but after changing the soil around the trees and pruning them, 18 months later he notices no improvement.  Forsyth says,

‘I began to consider what was best to be done with so many old pear-trees that were worn out.  The fruit that they produced I could not send to his Majesty’s table with any credit to myself, it being small, hard and kernelly.’

But rather than grub up the old trees and wait for new stock to start bearing – Forsyth estimates this would have taken ‘between twelve and fourteen years’ – he decides to ‘try an experiment, with a view of recovering the old ones.’

In 1786 Forsyth began a process of ‘heading down’ seven old trees, probably best explained by the illustrations below.  Some large branches were removed as close to a bud as possible, allowing the tree to produce new, vigorous shoots.  In the case of wall trained pear trees, the new growth was carefully tied in.

St Germain Pear Tree
This plate represents an old decayed Pear-tree, with four stems, which was headed down, all but the branch C, and the young wood trained in the common way, or fan-fashioned.

Branches marked A show young wood, producing the fine large fruit B.

C. An old branch pruned in the common way, having large spurs standing out a foot or eighteen inches, and producing the diminutive, kernelly and ill-favoured fruit D, not fit to be eaten.

White Beurre Pear Tree
Fig. 1. An old decayed Beurre pear-tree, headed down at f, and restored from one inch and a half of live bark.

Fig. 2. An old branch of the same tree before it was headed down, trained and pruned in the old way, with spurs standing out a foot, or a foot and a half from the wall; and the rough bark, infested with a destructive insect

The diagram of an old White Beurre pear tree shows detail of an old branch which has been removed – the bark was infested with insects, so the pruning has the effect of eliminating persistent pests as well as promoting new growth.

As well as the headed down trees, Forsyth kept seven trees as a control group and pruned these in the regular way.  Forsyth observes that in the third year after ‘heading down’, the trees were producing more fruit that they did previously, and that it is larger and of better quality.  After four years the trees are producing ‘upwards of five times the quantity of fruit that the others did’.  Here’s an excerpt showing the improved yield and also the systematic nature of Forsyth’s records.

Trees treated according to the common method of pruning:

‘A Crasane produced one hundred pears, and the tree spread fourteen yards.
Another Crasane produced sixteen pears, and the tree spread ten yards.’

Trees headed down and pruned according to my method:

‘A Crasane bore five hundred and twenty pears.
A Brown Beurre bore five hundred and three pears.
Another Brown Beurre bore five hundred and fifty pears.’

Forsyth’s crops were even greater using his pruning method on smaller, standard trees; so much so, he ‘is obliged to prop the branches, to prevent their being broken down by the weight of it.’

In other chapters, Forsyth records similar successes with apples, plums, apricots, peaches and grape vines, and towards the end of the book publishes a series of endorsements from prominent people who have tried his pruning methods and his composition in their own gardens.

What’s inspiring today about Forsyth’s treatise is his willingness to use his vast horticultural experience pragmatically – and creatively – to address a problem.  He teaches us that from time to time it’s worthwhile to step back from the ‘correct way’ of doing things and experiment with a different approach to address the challenges that gardening presents us with.

Links below to Forsyth’s Treatise.  I’ve included a plate of the pruning tools used by Forsyth and an explanation of these from the text.

Standard Pear Tree
An old Bergamot Pear, headed down at the cicatrix a, taken from the wall and planted out as a dwarf standard.
b. A wound, covered with the composition, where a large upright shoot was cut off, to give the leading shoot freedom to grow straight.

Figs 2 and 3 show the insect (probably the Codling moth) so destructive to fruit trees.

Tools used by Forsyth both for pruning and for preparing wood to receive his healing composition

Forsyth’s directions for making his Composition from 1791

Gardener with pear tree, Ote Hall, Sussex. Photographed by Charles Jones circa 1901 – 20 (V&A Collections)

The above photograph gives a sense of the abundance of a wall trained pear, when pruned skillfully.

Further reading:

William Forsyth’s Treatise on the culture and management of fruit trees

William Forsyth (horticulturalist) Wikipedia

Johann Hermann Knoop’s Pomologia

Pomologia, dat is, Beschryvingen en afbeeldingen van de beste soorten van appels en peeren by Johann Hermann Knoop. (1758)  Pomologia, that is, descriptions and pictures of the best varieties of apples and pears (The Getty Research Institute via archive.org)

Caroline d’Angleterre, Witte Ribbezt, Spaansche Guelderling, Peppin d’Or, Calville Blanche d’Hyver – what do these names have in common?  All are European apples, grown in the mid-18th century and recorded by Johann Hermann Knoop in his spectacular book, Pomologia, that is, descriptions and pictures of the best varieties of apples and pears (1758).

Exceptional coloured engravings reveal the immense variety in the shapes, scale and colour of these fruits.  Some of the apples have elongated shapes like plums or melons, looking quite different from those available today.  Others, like the Bruindeling and Reinette de Montbron, are exceptionally dark shades of brown, while the skin of the Reinette Grise appears to have a slightly rough texture, as well as its unusual colouring.

The pears are just as diverse.  Some, like the Bergamotte d’Oré and another, simply named Parfum, are small and round like apples.  Bourdon and Muscat-Fleury are conventionally pear shaped, but miniature.  The appropriately named Grande Monarche is a huge green pear, with a touch of redness on the side of the fruit that was exposed to the sun while growing on the tree, and ready to eat in February and March.

Born in Germany, Knoop (early 18th century – 1769) followed his father into horticulture and began his career as gardener at Marienburg, near Leeuwarden in The Netherlands.  By 1747 the estate had lost its status as a royal residence, and not long after this Knoop left his position there, with a suggestion that alcoholism might have been a factor in the termination of his employment.

Whilst still at Marienburg, Knoop’s interest in science resulted in his first publication in 1744 – an update of an existing handbook for engineers and surveyors – but it was the publication of Pomologia in 1758 that brought him wider recognition.  After Pomologia Knoop published Dendrologia (about garden trees) and Fructologia discussing fruit trees such as cherries and plums, and these three publications were sometimes sold bound together as an encyclopedia.  Reflecting Knoop’s breadth of interests, further books on subjects as diverse as heraldry and architecture followed.

Knoop’s ambitious survey of apple and pears covers varieties from the Low countries, Germany, France and England.  Information about each of these is organised in chapters to accompany the numbered plates, and includes details of the size and vigour of the trees as well as the relative merits of the fruits, such as flavour and keeping qualities – especially important before modern refrigeration.  It also served as an identification manual for readers to match fruits from their gardens to illustrations in the book.

According to the university of Utrecht, the engravings for Pomologia produced by Jacob Folkema and Jan Casper Philips were hand coloured by the daughters of the publisher, Abraham Ferwerda.  The skillful use of shading in the engravings conveys a sense of weight and solidity, while the depiction of irregularities and blemishes on the skins of the fruits lends both charm and a sense of authenticity.

Are any of the apples and pears from Knoop’s work still cultivated today?  A brief search reveals the apple Calville Blanche d’Hiver for sale at specialist growers Bernwode Fruit Trees.  Bernwode notes the cooked fruit keeps its shape and that, ‘Victorian gardeners grew the trees against a wall or under glass, for the best flavour and because chefs valued the fruit so highly.’  Calville Blanche d’Hiver can also be used as dessert apple.  The pear Jargonelle is available, and the Poire d‘Angleterre, or Engelse Beurré, with its reddish-brown skin, the flavour described as ‘melting, very juicy flesh, sweet and rich’.

Links to Pomologia (1758) and a French translation (1771) below, plus links to the universities of Delft and Utrecht for biographical information about Knoop published on their websites.

Calville Blanche d’Hyver is the green apple at the bottom right of the page.

The pear Jargonelle is seen at the bottom of this page.

The beautiful brown Poire d’Angleterre appears at the top right of this page

Further reading:

Pomologia (1758)

French translation published in 1771 Pomologia (1771)

Biography of Knoop from University of Utrecht

Discussion of Knoop’s career from Prof Cor Wagenaar, University of Delft

Bernwode Fruit Trees

Late Summer at Forde Abbey

Glasshouses in the kitchen garden at Forde Abbey, Somerset

Last week temperatures soared, making the south of England feel almost Mediterranean.  Shade becomes invaluable in a heatwave, as we seek the relief of a garden seat carefully placed on a woodland walk, or close to the cooling sound of a stream.

Both trees and water are major elements at Forde Abbey gardens.   We arrived just as the Centenary fountain was due to be activated – at certain intervals in the day, a single jet of water powers 160 feet into the air, making this the tallest fountain in the UK.  Although the air was relatively still on the day we visited, the plume of water is sensitive to any variation in the direction of the breeze, changing its shape continually, and covering the surrounding area in a fine mist – a welcome effect in the 90 degree sunshine.

The Great Pond at the southern boundary of the garden was established over 800 years ago by Cistercian monks, and by means of channels, water from this source supplies the more recently added canal and ponds.  The gardens have been developed by a succession of owners over the centuries, including the most recent, the Kennard family, who installed the fountain.

The impressive walled kitchen garden was constructed in the 19th century and is now planted in a colourful, contemporary style against a background of traditional stone walls and glasshouses.  Sweet peas are trained against a tunnel made of rustic poles, covering a central pathway, and alongside the array of vegetables and fruit is a profusion of flowering plants.  Whether grown for cutting, or encouraging crop pollinators, all the blooms contribute to the sense of abundance and generosity which characterises the entire garden.

The large growing beds are edged with low box hedges.   Sometimes, hedging around smaller vegetable beds can look fussy as well as being a lot of work to maintain.  But here, and on this scale the box looks perfect, and has a practical purpose, in some areas acting as a retaining barrier for the soil which has been built up higher than the paths with the addition of compost over years of cultivation.

Permanent crops such as asparagus, rhubarb and peonies are planted in rows alongside annual sowings of brassicas, squash, courgettes and salad vegetables.  Orange flowers always seem to feel at home in a kitchen garden and there are many examples here, including French marigolds (tagetes), alstroemeria and Tithonia rotundiflora.

The outer walls of the kitchen garden form the backdrop for a spectacular herbaceous border and it was here that, rather unexpectedly, we met Alice Kennard, working in a large brimmed hat alongside her gardeners.  Alice tells us that the border is at least fifteen feet deep – about five paces from the wall to the lawn edge.  Ordinarily, without the complications of Covid 19, much of the produce from the walled garden would be used in Forde Abbey’s kitchens catering for visitors and events, but this year much is for sale in the estate’s shop and staff are encouraged to take home what they can.

In the intense heat, I found a few precious pockets of shade in the walled kitchen garden, from which these photographs were taken.  Forde Abbey’s Grade 1 listed buildings currently remain closed, but the 30 acre garden is open daily.  More photographs of the gardens and information about Forde Abbey’s history and opening times here: Forde Abbey   Some of the covetable plants seen in the herbaceous borders are available from the Abbey’s excellent plant nursery.

Low box hedges surround the growing beds

Aramanth ‘Red Army’

Sweet peas on a rustic framework

Rhubarb in a cooler section of the garden

Beautiful clematis on a shady wall

The peach house

Tithonia rotundiflora

A ripening squash

Further reading:

Wikipedia entry for Forde Abbey: Forde Abbey on Wikipedia

Pruning the Brogdale Bramley

Bramley’s Seedling apples on the tree at the National Fruit Collection, Brogdale (photo Wikimedia Commons)

Venturing out on my first horticultural visit of the year, last Saturday I headed for Brogdale, home of the National Fruit Collection just outside Faversham in Kent.  February being an ideal time to prune apple trees, my purpose was to attend a pruning demonstration, whereby a large Bramley apple tree left unpruned for the last six years would be re-shaped.

Bramley’s Seedling is still one of the UK’s best known cooking apples.  The original tree was raised in 1809 from seed planted by a young girl Mary Ann Brailsford in her Nottinghamshire cottage garden.  By the 1840s the cottage (and apple tree) were owned by one Matthew Bramley, a butcher, who allowed cuttings to be taken for commercial propagation by local nurseryman Henry Merryweather on condition that the trees bore his name.

The Bramley apple tree produces delicious fruit, but has some special requirements for successful cultivation.  They are vigorous trees, needing a large space to grow well and are triploids meaning that they need two separate apple varieties nearby to ensure successful pollination.

The Bramley apple tree that greeted us at Brogdale was a confusing prospect – tall, asymmetric, with an over-abundance of sprawling branches.  It was clear that pruning was required, but how to begin with such a tangle of growth?

Our guide, the horticulturalist and fruit tree specialist John Easton encouraged us to stand back from the tree, walk around it and examine it from every angle.  We should also try to imagine the tree as it might appear from above – ideally up to five major branches would radiate out like the spokes of a wheel.

John identified two main problems with the tree.  There were large branches shading the centre of the tree, preventing new shoots from developing, (which would eventually form a framework of new branches).  The tree also had too many lateral shoots, causing the tree to be very congested.

We were then asked to suggest which large branches should come out, and after some deliberation, these branches were marked with tape at their junction with the trunk of the tree.  John emphasised the importance of sticking to a decision about removing branches as a loss of confidence half way through the process could result in a tree that was unbalanced.

Using both a small hand held chainsaw and a pole mounted chainsaw, Martin (John’s assistant for the day) started to remove branches.  John then used a pruning saw and secateurs to thin growth on the branches that we’d decided to keep and raise the level of the lowest of these so the crop would not be splashed with soil and the grass beneath could be mown easily.  Under John’s guidance Martin next removed a vast quantity of 5 year old upright shoots from the centre of the tree, leaving those remaining with enough space to develop and bear fruit.

The pruned tree still had a wide spread, and while it might be tempting to tidy away the tips of the branches to make the tree neater, John explained why this should be avoided in a Bramley.  As a partial tip-bearer, fruit is produced at the ends of the branches, and also on short spurs that appear along the fruiting laterals.  As new, upright shoots develop the weight of the apple crop has the effect of ‘bringing down’ the branches which are quite flexible.  But if the ends are removed this has a stiffening effect on the branch and interrupts the growth pattern of tree.

Finally, John explained the current thinking about the treatment of watershoots, which spring up in great numbers on the main branches and sometimes the tree trunk, where the sap flow is at its greatest.  Rather than remove them all (for aesthetic purposes) he suggested removing a third entirely with a saw, cutting a third back to around three inches with a secateurs and bending in the final third to curtail their upward growth.  He explained that the roughness of the saw cut damaged the tree cells more than a cleaner cut with secateurs, and stopped re-growth more effectively.

Ideally apple trees should be pruned on a three year cycle with a maximum of one third of the growth removed at any one time.  John emphasised the importance of knowing when to stop – although there were more laterals that he could have removed, the danger of damaging the tree after the major work he had carried out was too great.  And so it being time, as John put it, to ‘walk away from the tree’ we finished our day.

A tangle of branches – the tree before pruning.

Having decided which branches to remove, these are marked clearly with tape.

Fruit tree expert John Easton (on the ground) and Martin (on the ladder) discuss which branches are to be removed.

Martin uses a pole chainsaw to take out a vertical branch.

John uses a pruning saw and secateurs to thin fruiting laterals closer to the ground.

Expert cut to thin out growth on a fruiting lateral.

Bark of the Bramley tree in the early February sunshine.

The Brogdale Bramley after pruning.

A fraction of the mass of material from the tree after pruning.

Blossom of the Bramley’s Seedling apple, National Fruit Collection, Brogdale (photo Wikimedia Commons)

Bramley Tree Cottage in Southwell, Nottinghamshire, where the first Bramley apple tree was raised from seed by Mary Ann Brailsford.  Photograph: Alan Murray-Rust Wikimedia Commons

Further Reading:

Brogdale Collections – home of the National Fruit Collection including over 2000 apple varieties

The Bramley Seedling Apple – the history of this much loved tree on Wikipedia

Permaculture in the Lea Valley

Inside the glasshouse at Hawkwood Plant Nursery the home of Organiclea, fruit and vegetable producers in the Lea Valley, Chigwell.

Tempted outside by the February sunshine last weekend, the unseasonable warmth happened to coincide with an open day at organic growers OrganicLea in Chingford.  And so it was at the very beginning of the vegetable growing season I found myself with a group of visitors exploring twelve acres of fields and glasshouses in the Lea Valley guided by Tim Mitchell, one of the garden’s organisers.

The OrganicLea market garden is to be found, somewhat incongruously, between streets of semi-detached houses typical of the outer suburbs of London and the eastern edge of Epping Forest.  It occupies what was previously Hawkwood Plant Nursery, the London borough of Waltham Forest’s propagation centre for amenity plants grown for use in local parks and gardens.  When this facility closed ten years ago, OrganicLea saw an opportunity to expand – they had previously operated from a community allotment – and they now lease the whole site from the council.

The majority of the gardens are on a slope and several large oak trees, some of which experts believe date from the 17th century, punctuate the growing area.  According to conventional horticultural wisdom, this might not be considered an ideal position for a market garden.  However, by following principles of permaculture, OrganicLea has been able to work with the existing topography to create a productive garden.

Tim’s personal interest in permaculture came out of an interest in ecology. “I was interested in how humans can work alongside other species without destroying the habitats or poisoning those other species. Ecological food-growing  seemed to be the best working model. Although other species often thrive in our absence, it would be nice if we could join the party without ruining it.” he explains.

Permaculture is a term first used in the 1970s by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, the two Australian pioneers of the concept.  It stands for ‘permanent agriculture’ and seeks to find ways of cultivating food crops sustainably, in harmony with the natural environment.  Their book Permaculture One: A Perennial Agriculture for Human Settlements (1978) was followed by the establishment in 1979 of a Permaculture Institute in Tasmania.  Although Mollison spent some time as a campaigner against commercial agriculture, which he believed was damaging the environment in Tasmania, eventually he found it more worthwhile to develop ideas and teach others about sustainable growing practice, which is now a worldwide movement.

The diagram below shows how the permaculture design concept works, with the most intensive cultivation nearest to the house or settlement and much of the perimeter of the site left in a natural state, as a ‘wilderness zone’ for ‘foraging, inspiration and mediation’.

The French translation of Permaculture One: A Perennial Agriculture for Human Settlements (1978)

Standing at the top of Entrance field, the first part of the site to be cultivated by OrganicLea, Tim pointed out a swale, or ditch, running the length of the cultivated area.  This, he explained, is the first line of defence against the force of rainwater running off the wooded hill above, catching some of it and and preventing erosion of the soil.  Beneath this, long, curved beds of vegetables divided by bark chipping paths follow the natural contour of the hill and absorb the remaining rainwater, reducing the frequency the beds need to be hand watered.

All the outdoor crops are cultivated by hand using the ‘no dig’ method.  Compost is added to the beds annually which smothers weeds and builds up topsoil without disturbing the soil structure beneath.  These beds operate on a ten year crop rotation plan, with two years of this cycle devoted to feeding the soil using a green manure crop.

At the centre of the site are the commercial glasshouses OrganicLea inherited ten years ago.  Tim explained, “The glasshouse is a boon as it allows us to run a viable commercial operation.  We can grow higher value crops like tomatoes and chillies which are sold to the public but also to restaurants.”  Up to sixty varieties of chillies are grown and are popular at OrganicLea’s three local market stalls.  Except for some propagation tables, the glasshouse is unheated, but even in February many of the long beds bordered by old scaffolding boards are full of winter salads.

The surrounding woodland has not been cleared but is managed for wildlife.  Out of twelve acres, just six are under production and the OrganicLea team is trying to monitor and increase biodiversity.  At the edge of this ‘wilderness zone’ there’s a poet’s corner dedicated to John Clare.  Tim says, “We like to think he passed through the woods here when he was living in Epping Forest.”

So today the last word goes to Clare – these lines are from London versus Epping Forest written when Clare was resident at the High Beach Asylum in Epping Forest between 1837 – 41.  Although London has now overwhelmed so much of the natural landscape, from this spot surrounded by trees it is somehow possible to experience a sense that nature is still greater than human activity.

Thus London like a shrub among the hills
Lies hid and lower than the bushes here.
I could not bear to see the tearing plough
Root up and steal the forest from the poor,
But leave to freedom all she loves untamed,
The forest walk enjoyed and loved by all.

Rhubarb in the Old Kitchen Garden.

Lettuce, with garlic in the background.

Endive

Rocket and broad beans

Swiss chard

Propagators on heated bench. The black pots in the background will soon be used for the chillie crop.

Inside the glasshouse. The green string is used to support beans, tomatoes and cucumbers.

The glasshouse from the top of Entrance Field

Gloves drying out on trellis.

Further reading:

OrganicLea – well worth looking out for monthly open days and events.

Bill Mollison

David Holmgren

Permaculture Association (UK)

Wordsworth House and Garden

On a damp, grey day in early April it’s not every garden that tempts visitors to linger. But when I visited the walled garden at Wordsworth House in Cockermouth, Cumbria at the beginning of the month there was much to see of interest, as well as providing some welcome shelter from cold winds.

Although early in the season, signs of spring were evident.  Daffodils were flowering, with tulips not far behind them; new shoots visible on the roses and perennial plants were starting to emerge from their  long winter dormancy.

Wordsworth House is the birthplace of William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850), who lived here with his family in the 1770s.  The National Trust, which acquired the house in the 1930s, has designed the garden in late eighteenth century style, with plant varieties that would have been available in the period.   Attractive slate labels show the names of these plants, information about their uses and introduction to cultivation in the UK.  The apples Greenup’s Pippin (1790) and Acklam Russet (1768) are cultivated with the the dual purpose pear Williams Bon Chretien (1770), Morello Cherry (pre 1629) and the Gargarin Blue Grape.  The garden also has a collection of Orpington and Silkie hens.

Beans and peas and other household vegetables are grown in open beds at the centre of the garden and the traditional supports for these made out of local materials such as birch are already in place for the coming season.  Supports for flowers like peonies are also constructed using poles and string.

The garden backs onto the river Derwent, which looks tame enough today, but in 2009 William Wordsworth’s ‘beauteous stream’ burst its banks.  Both the house and gardens were damaged by flooding (as were other buildings in the town) with many garden plants swept away by the waters, and even the heavy wooden gates at the front of the building (now replaced) were wrenched from their hinges.  The force of the water must have been immense.

Today the re-planted garden with its fruit trees, roses, flowers and herbs looks well established, which is a tribute to the efforts of head gardener Amanda Thackeray and the National Trust’s team of volunteers.  It’s also a good reminder that it is possible to create a garden with a sense of permanence in a relatively short period of time.

Wordsworth House and Garden, Spring 2018

new shoots of lovage (Levisticum officinale)

Back home, whilst considering the old fruit varieties I was delighted to come across a catalogue of fruit trees from the relatively local grower William Pinkerton, based in Wigan, and dating from 1782.  Despite its fragile looking state it’s available at the Biodiversity Heritage Library via the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Library.  The comprehensive list includes a surprising number of peaches, nectarines and apricots as well as apples, pears, plums and cherries.  Although not individually named, Pinkerton offers a staggering 74 varieties of gooseberry.  It would be fascinating to know how many of these varieties are traceable today – the Green Gage and La Mirabelle plums certainly sound familiar.  The catalogue is reproduced below.

William Pinkerton’s Catalogue of Fruit Trees, Wigan, Lancs 1782

I wonder if this nectarine variety is anything to do with Thomas Fairchild?

William Pinkerton’s Fruit Catalogue 1782

Wordsworth House and Garden

William Wordsworth

Bernwode Plants  masses of information about heritage fruit trees

A Cottage and Garden

from An Account of a Cottage and Garden in Tadcaster. Sir Thomas Bernard, 1797 (Wikimedia Commons)

Picturesque cottages might be so disposed around a park, as to ornament and enliven the scenery with much more effect, than those misplaced gothic castles, and those pigmy models of Grecian temples, that perverted taste is so busy with: but it is the unfortunate principle of ornamental buildings in England that they should be uninhabited and uninhabitable.

This impassioned call for landowners to reject the fashion for ornamental garden structures and build cottages on their estates instead, to address a rural housing shortage caused by inclosure, comes from the social reformer Sir Thomas Bernard’s fascinating text An Account of a Cottage and Garden in Tadcaster (1797).  It was published for the Society for Bettering the Condition and Increasing the Comforts of the Poor, a charity which Bernard helped to found.

The picturesque cottage garden is a powerful motif in English garden history.  The cottage garden represents a modest beauty, simplicity, a place of domestic production, supplying fruit, flowers and vegetables to the owners; perhaps some eggs, or honey.  It is unpretentious, a sanctuary, in harmony with nature and its surroundings; it possesses an essential integrity born out of hard work and self-reliance.  All these qualities are attractive, of course, and the cottage garden style is one many aspire to re-create today.

The first garden Bernard discusses belongs to Britton Abbot.  At the age of 67 Abbot is still working as an agricultural labourer.  The interview with Abbot takes place on a Saturday afternoon – his wife is sent to fetch him from a field where he is working a mile or so away.  Abbot’s fortunes had nearly collapsed when his previous house and land were enclosed.  He appealed to a local landowner, who gave him a strip of land upon which he was able to build his current house and establish the garden.  Without this generous assistance, it is likely Abbot and his family would have faced ruin.

Abbot’s garden is about a quarter of an acre and has a hedge enclosing the garden.  Cultivated by his wife and noted for its neatness, the garden contains, ‘fifteen apple-trees, one green gage, and three winesour plum-trees, two apricot-trees, several gooseberry and currant bushes, abundance of common vegetables, and three hives of bees’.

The produce the Abbots would expect to harvest annually from the garden amounts to, ‘about 40 bushels of potatoes, besides other vegetables; and his fruit, in a good year, is worth from £3 to £4 a year.  His wife occasionally goes out to work; she also spins at home, and takes care of his house and garden’.

Bernard appeals to other landowners to give land to working people to be used in the same way:

The quarter of an acre that Britton Abbot inclosed was not worth a shilling a year. It now contains a good house and a garden, abounding in fruit, vegetables, and almost every thing that constitutes the wealth of the cottager.  In such inclosures, the benefit to the country, and to the individuals of the parish, would far surpass any petty sacrifice of land to be required.  FIVE UNSIGHTLY, UNPROFITABLE, ACRES OF WASTE GROUND WOULD AFFORD HABITATION AND COMFORT TO TWENTY SUCH FAMILIES AS BRITTON ABBOT’S.

The second case study, contained in an Account of the produce of a Cottager’s Garden in Shropshire (1806) features Richard Millward’s garden.  Millward is a collier, and his wife Jane cultivates agricultural land, and a garden, which together amount to just over an acre.

The wife has managed the ground in a particular manner for thirteen years with potatoes and wheat, chiefly by her own labour; and in a way which has yielded good crops, and of late fully equal, or rather superior, to the produce of the neighbouring farms, and with little or no expense; but she has improved her mode of culture during the last six years.

Jane Millward has introduced the new cultivation method after becoming frustrated waiting for local farmers to have the time to plough the larger part of the garden for her.  Now she and her husband do all the work themselves.  In October, she sows wheat straight into the ground where potatoes have been, so the wheat over-winters in the ground.  Then the ground which has grown wheat in the previous year is dug for planting potatoes the following spring.  This excerpt gives an impression of the sheer hard work involved planting the potatoes:

The ground is dug for potatoes in the month of March and April, to the depth of about nine inches.  This digging would cost sixpence per pole, if hired.  After putting in the dung, the potatoes are planted in rows, about twelve or fourteen inches distant.  The dung is carried out in a wheelbarrow and it takes a great many days to plant the whole, generally ten days.  Her husband always assists in digging, after his hours of ordinary labour.

In the vegetable garden Jane plants peas, beans, cabbages and early potatoes for the family plus turnips which she boils for their pig.  Both accounts give us an unusual amount of detail about the gardens and the way they were arranged and used.

Sir Thomas Bernard (1750 – 1818) spent much of his working life on social projects to improve conditions for the poor.  He helped to establish the Society for Bettering the Condition and Increasing the Comforts of the Poor and was treasurer of the Foundling Hospital in London.  He also established a school for the blind.  He was an advocate of vaccination, rural allotments and was instrumental in obtaining consents for the building of the Regent’s Canal.

Below is a link to the 1806 version of Bernard’s text which is very short and well worth reading.  Also some contemporary images of rural scenes and cottage gardens and a link to Margaret Willes’s The Gardens of the Working Classes – an extraordinary survey of gardens belonging to ordinary working people in the UK.

An Account of a Cottage and Garden in Tadcaster. Sir Thomas Bernard, 1797 (Wikimedia Commons)

Account of Britton Abbot’s cottage and garden : and of a cottager’s garden in Shropshire : to which is added Jonas Hobson’s advice to his children, and the contrast between a religious and sinful life. 1806 (Biodiversity Heritage Library)

The Natural History of Selborne 1789 (The Wellcome Library)

Hanging Washing with Pigs and Chickens 1797 Thomas Bewick (Wikimedia Commons)

Wheat, beans, peas

published by Yale University Press

Account of Britton Abbot’s Cottage and Garden 1806

(from the Biodiversity Heritage Library)

Sir Thomas Bernard

The Gardens of the British Working Class

Blood Oranges

The beginning of February is the height of the season for citrus fruits.  My favourite of these is the blood orange and part of the attraction as well as the taste is the paper that some of these fruits are wrapped in.  Typically a box of oranges will contain a few wrapped fruit, adding to the overall attractiveness of the container.  The wrapping also turns an orange into a small gift.

I’m heartened to see that Pinterest has many collectors of these vernacular advertising artworks.  Mark Denton Esq has some particularly beautiful examples and I include a link to these at the end of this post.  The papers in my own collection are mostly from Sicily which is a traditional centre for cultivation of the blood orange and are often (but not always) red like the flesh of the fruit they enclose.  The central image is always circular so when wrapped around the fruit the roundness of the orange is emphasised.

The first design shows a luscious looking orange, against a golden sunburst design – suggesting the rays that ripened the fruit or maybe the burst of flavour experienced from the first mouthful of the orange itself.  Other designs include an antelope, a red heart set in a golden sunburst and a red rose.  Agri Etna’s wrapper shows a view of the great volcano with images of strawberries and prickly pear fruits – presumably also produced by these growers.

The red tinged flesh of the blood orange is caused by the presence of anthocyanin which is an anti-oxidant found in many fruits, but unusual in the orange family.  The red colour develops when the fruits are exposed to low night temperatures.  I wonder if this might explain why some of the fruits are unevenly coloured inside – perhaps the side of the fruit most exposed to cold on the tree develops a deeper coloured flesh?

In the UK most of our blood oranges are from Valencia or Sicily, but they are also widely grown in California.  These are not always the largest or sweetest oranges – but have a pleasing intensity to their flavour.  When we stayed in Venice a few years ago the hotel served blood orange juice for breakfast that was dark – almost beetroot coloured.  This juice may well have been from the Moro blood orange – a relatively new variety with the deepest colour and a sharp taste.

Not always the easiest fruit to find in supermarkets, our local Turkish grocer is currently selling three for a pound.  Bargain!

Mark Denton’s Fruit Wrappers

(See also Mark’s potato sack collection!)

The Blood Orange – Wikipedia