The apple of my eye

By Tamsin Westhorpe

Thud! I adore the sound of a ripe apple landing on the ground.

It reminds me of my childhood when October half term was spent picking cider apples in our two orchards on the farm. Day after day the whole family would be filling buckets and at the end of the week my grandfather would light ‘one’ firework in the orchard to celebrate Hallowe’en and the completion of the apple harvest. We would then head inside for an apple bobbing competition and a toffee apple. Happy memories all created by the easiest of fruits to grow.

There is more than one season of interest for an apple tree – spring blossom is a highlight.

For me, an apple tree is the beating heart of a garden. Nothing can possibly be more rewarding than baking a pie from home-grown apples or taking an apple to work that has been picked from your own tree. It’s not all about fruit however, as in spring the wonderful blossom is simply breathtaking and pollinating insects enjoy the flowers as much as we do.

Bramley’s Seedling is a reliable cooking apple and Laxton’s Epicure is a great eating apple.

As it’s tree planting time I am hoping that this blog post will remind you of the great value an apple tree can bring to your garden and your life. You won’t find an easier fruit to grow and however small your plot there is a way of accommodating an apple tree. Those grown on dwarfing rootstocks or trained as cordons will happily thrive in large containers if placed in a sheltered, sunny spot.

Dwarf apple trees allow you to pick and prune without the use of a ladder.

With pages and pages of apples listed in the RHS Plant Finder where do you start if you want to plant such a life-enhancing tree in your garden? One answer to this is to eat apples and lots of them in the hope you will bite into a fruit that you want to grow. The other solution is to write a list of what you want the tree to bring to your life and take this to a specialist nursery. Finding the right apple tree is like finding the right partner – I like to think of a tree nursery as a kind of dating agency!

When it comes to taste are you looking for a large crop of cooking apples? Do you want a sweet dessert apple for the children’s lunchbox or are you keen to make crab apple jelly? The next consideration is the size of your garden. If you only have room for one tree, then a self-fertile tree is the most sensible option but if you have room for two or more then make sure they are compatible pollinating partners. Timing is also key – are you wanting early apples in mid-summer or would you prefer your harvest in later winter? Do you have the space to store fruit? Some varieties store better than others. Or, are you intending to grow cooking apples and make large batches of chutney all in one go?

Cider apples tend to be small and ripen in mid-October.

You may perhaps prefer to discount traditional apples in favour of more disease resistant varieties or you might be eager to grow apples with a link to your county. Lastly, you need to decide how you would like to train your tree. Apples can be trained as cordons, standards, espalier or stepovers and they can also be grown on different rootstocks which determine the height of the tree.

Laxton Epicure is a crisp and juicy old-fashioned eating apple. My favourite.

Don’t let all of these decisions put you off committing to an apple tree. Be one smart apple and head to a specialist nursery and the experts will guide you and help you to find a tree that will bring joy, taste and happy memories to your life.

Tamsin Westhorpe

With over 25 years’ experience in the horticultural industry, Tamsin has plenty of practical, hands on advice to share. Her career has seen her edit The English Garden magazine for six years, write scripts for TV gardening, lecture at Kingston Maurward College in Dorset and care for parks and gardens. She is now a freelance writer and curator and gardener of Stockton Bury Gardens, Herefordshire (listed by The Times in the top 20 gardens to visit July 2017). Tamsin is also an RHS Chelsea Flower Show Judge, co-Chair of The Garden Media Guild and a prolific speaker at many high profile events. She has recently written her first book ‘Diary of a Modern Country Gardener’ published by Orphans Publishing and is the voice of the popular Candide Gardening podcast ‘Fresh from the pod’.

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