The reckless growth of midsummer is slowing; the blackberries by the old carriage drive are turning now from sullen red to ripeness and the companionable fledgeling robins of the walled garden are fledgelings no more. In the vegetable quarter visitors are admiring the ‘stepover’ apples and their bounty of fruit. “They’re not ripe yet in case you were wondering” I have to remind people; apples are indeed tempting.
But these apples are what I cheekily refer to as sacrificial. In other words, they are grown to attract pests away from a more precious crop; in this case, the apples of the Welsh cultivars that are planted on the west-facing slope of the outer walled garden.
The idea of a Welsh Native Orchard came about on a Friday afternoon in October 2011 when the then newly-appointed curator Simon Goodenough was talking with the group of volunteers who every year are responsible for the vast display of fruit that is the mainstay of our apple weekend and was overheard asking “..and where is the Welsh Heritage Orchard?” Thus the seed was sown with this group of enthusiastic, knowledgeable and knowledge-hungry individuals at the heart of the Welsh Heritage Orchard team. Their passion for all things apple, their diligent research and an ongoing dialogue with the Marcher Apple Network (MAN) meant that within a year the idea had literally taken root as a living orchard.
This orchard currently contains 42 cultivars either of Welsh origin or having a long-standing tradition of being grown in Wales.
The first trees were planted in the dismal summer of 2012 and the collection has been enlarged in subsequent years. Formative pruning of the trees has been carried out each winter alongside an appropriate feeding regime and, apart from some deer interference early on, they appear to be thriving and, in many cases bearing fruit.
This collection is a living library of genetic material that aims to encompass all known Welsh dessert, culinary and cider apple varieties. With the ongoing help of the Orchard volunteers and MAN we are committed to spreading the word about the glorious diversity of Welsh apples and to preserve that heritage for future generations.
Sadly, although almost all of the Malus domestica cultivars mentioned in literature have been rediscovered, a few may be lost forever. Foreman’s Crew was a variety raised around 1826 by Thomas Seton Forman Esq. of Penydarren Place near Merthyr Tydfil. It is described as “one of the best dessert apples, with the flavour of Nonpareil and Golden Pippin.” This remains only on paper at present.
But it is always better to celebrate what we have than to lament what we are lacking and it is a joy to see the diversity of fruit the harvest brings this year. Over the coming years as the trees grow and mature the orchard will play host to lectures and training days and a variety of apple-related activities and events.
For this Garden to have such a collection is of immeasurable value. It is a veritable Welsh treasure.