“Pears like districts where there is an equable temperature and a large expanse of water does ensure less liability to frost in the spring when the blossoms are out. Pears do well, for instance along the Medway valley, and in the Swale Estuary in Kent.”
The author of this observation, W. Shewell Cooper, the amateur gardening guru, was highlighting the area around Faversham on the Swale as being particularly good for pears and the same argument holds for all fruits.
This was written in the 1950s at the time when the Ministry – MAFF, now Defra – was wisely selecting Brogdale, just outside Faversham for the site of its fruit collections and fruit trials work. Shewell Cooper and the Ministry were both thinking of the best place to achieve good, regular crops. In other words, somewhere that was reasonably free from late spring frosts, the fruit grower’s worst enemy: there are no frost pockets at Brogdale. While benefiting from proximity to the sea, Brogdale is also in a slightly elevated position – at a couple of hundred feet above sea level – which has the advantage of holding back the blossom a little, making it a ‘late’ site and hence giving further protection. Closeness to the sea, however, can bring strong winds, but the whole of Brogdale is divided up into hectare plots by mature protective wind breaks. All in all then a splendid spot in which to grow fruit and ideal for a wide range of different fruits. It has the right soils and maximum hours of sunshine for the UK. Why on earth then would anyone want to move the Collections away from Brogdale?
The ability to grow good pears is excellent proof of a congenial spot and the coastal areas of East Kent, from Rochester, on the Medway, down to Faversham and Canterbury excel in this respect. Today’s prize winning pear-grower farms at Wingham near Canterbury. Mockbeggar Farm at Higham, near Rochester, produced fabulous pears and Macknade Farms of Faversham were leading pear growers in the inter-war and post war years. All fruits grow well here and have done so for centuries.
When MAFF chose Brogdale, it was locating the Collections in the heart of the UK’s, leading fruit growing area. Climate and soils are key factors and historically also proximity to the London markets – before the advent of the railways fruit was shipped by boat from Faversham and Rochester. All good reasons why Henry VIII’s fruiterer, Richard Harris, chose Teynham on the Swale, next to Faversham, to plant orchards of new varieties to supply the capital and which in time earned the county its lasting title – ‘The Garden of England’. It was said that Harris’s fruit trees became the ‘chief mother of all other orchards’ serving as a testing ground as well as a source of varieties for fruit growers from far and wide. Much as, Brogdale has functioned for the past 50 years. Surely we can hope that common-sense will recognise the value of this uniquely suitable terroir and lead Defra to leave the Collections at Brogdale.