Georgina Connors has contacted us with the following inquiry:
‘Is there a list of orchards etc in the Midlands or south of England suitable to take growing children round? I have been told that the present site of the national fruit collection has been bought by a builder and it is being wound up, so I suppose it is not much good going there.’
I do not know of any list of orchards, but there are two excellent fruit collections in southern England.
The Royal Horticultural Society Gardens at Wisley, near Woking, Surrey has large orchards with collections of apples (over 600 varieties) pears and plums. It also has a ‘Model Fruit Garden’ of trained trees and demonstrations of ways of growing fruit in a small space, including a collection of some 150 varieties of gooseberries grown as cordons. Wisley is open all year round and children are welcome.
The National Fruit Collections at Brogdale, near Faversham in Kent is the largest collection of fruit varieties on one site in the world. In its extensive orchards and fruit plantations there are over 2,000 varieties of apples, around 500 pears, about 300 plums, nearly 300 cherries and also collections of currants, gooseberries, hazel nuts, vines, medlars and quinces. Brogdale is open to the public throughout the year; children are welcome.
What Georgina has been told about the National Fruit Collections is not wholly accurate, although there is some uncertainty about their future.
Brogdale has been owned for the past seven years by a local developer Hillreed Homes. Tony Hillier, its director, has publicly stated that he is fully committed to providing a permanent secure home for the National Fruit Collections at Brogdale and at the beginning of February announced that he is investing £1million in refurbishing Brogdale; work has commenced. This is not interfering with visitor access and business is as usual at Brogdale.
The National Fruit Collections are in the ownership of Defra, which funds maintenance of the Collections through contracts to the Brogdale Horticultural Trust for its husbandry and to Imperial College at Wye for its scientific curatorship. This has been the situation since 1990 and will continue until April 2008. Then the maintenance will be carried out by whoever secures the new contract with Defra, currently under tender with the result expected later in the year. This new tender has opened the door to the possibility of moving the Collections; it does not call for them to be moved but indicates that this will be considered. One imagines that both current holders of the Defra contract will bid for the new one. It is concerning however, that the Brogdale Horticultural Trust has indicated that if it wins the contract it will consider moving the Collections from Brogdale. In the BBC Radio 4 Farming Today on 23 March the Trust’s Chief Executive in answer to the question ‘But you do think that you will be on the move.’ replied ‘ Well if we win the contract.’
For what it is worth my own opinion is that to move the Collections would be tragic. The Collections are perfectly fine where they are; there is no good reason to move them. They have been on this site for 50 years. Brogdale is an ideal situation, with deep fertile soils suitable for growing a wide range of fruits, close to the sea which gives some amelioration from spring frosts and in the middle of our oldest fruit growing area. Brogdale is known throughout the world as the home of the National Fruit Collections with an international reputation and decades of good will. I would much prefer to see the National Fruit Collections remain at Brogdale.
That said, the Collections are open to the public as usual and wonderful at the moment with the cherries and plums in blossom. The pears are coming into flower and the apples will follow shortly. You will never see anything like it anywhere else.