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Archive for March, 2009

Dornfelder grape

Dornfelder grape

The Dornfelder wine grape will probably not succeed in this country, Alan Rowe writes in a piece on your main web site, but this is not my experience. Dornfelder grows very happily in many English vineyards – including ours at Plumpton College in Sussex – and (with care and no over-extraction) it makes a delightfully soft (dark plum (damson) and red cherry character) wine.

Peter Morgan

Alan Rowe’s article ‘Dornfelder: a really good German Red at last or Redfrauplonk’ can be read on Fruit Forum web-site

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Espalier from the 1940s in a St Ann's Allotment

Espalier dating from the 1940s in a St Anns Allotment

A new survey is about to take place on the St Anns Allotments in Nottingham to explore its orchard history and to find out the diversity and numbers of varieties still existing.

The grade 2* listed St Anns Allotments is the oldest and largest area of detached town gardens in Britain. Many old features still exist including wells, glasshouses, Victorian summerhouses and fruit trees, particularly apples, pears and plums. The site covers 34 hectares and is divided into an intricate network of over 600 individual plots surrounded by hedge-lined pathways and avenues. The current layout of the Allotments, also known as Hungerhill, was put together some time before 1839, but evidence for its cultivated use predates this. The Crown Survey Map of Sherwood Forest, 1609, indicated Hungerhill as a defined area of common ground. It was some time in Stuart times that the area was fenced off and cultivation began. The first development towards combined tenancy and cultivation appears to be about 400 years ago in 1605, when the Hungerhill gardens were ‘divided’ into about 40 burgess parts which were let to inhabitants of the town.

Mature fruit trees are some of the most striking features of the site, particularly the huge pears (there are some 30 specimens of large, mature pears). There are likely to be excess of 600 apple trees ranging in age. Research to map the locations, varieties and histories of the trees on the site has never been carried out before so little is known at present. Phase 1 of the survey will take place for a few weeks from late April. We will locate and record what basic trees exist and where. I plan to record data on age, condition (including pruning), habit, and characteristics etc. Phase 2 is the identification stage and will take place in the fruiting season 2009.

Eventually we will develop a guide for gardeners about the fruit trees on site and the legacy left by the gardeners before them. We will offer advice and guidelines on pruning and maintenance.

Can anyone offer any advice on features we ought to be recording and does anyone have any information on ‘old’ varieties of fruit in Nottingham or know anything about what may have been grown on the St Anns Allotments? If you would like to be involved in the project in any way, whether to help with the surveys or to carry out archival research please let me know! You will be warmly welcomed.

Helen Keating, Heritage and Outreach

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Beijing Botanic Garden: the collection of 'Prunus mume'

Beijing Botanic Garden: the collection of 'Prunus mume'

This notice board in the Beijing Botanic Garden stands at the entrance to their collection of Prunus mume or  ‘Mei’, which is known in the west as  the ornamental Japanese apricot and sometimes Chinese plum. Prunus mume is the ‘plum’ blossom of Chinese paintings and one of the ‘Four Gentlemen of Flowers’ in Chinese art, symbolising nobility; the others being the orchid, bamboo and chrysanthemum. It has been cultivated in China and Japan for centuries, where Prunus mume is the harbinger of spring often flowering when snow is still on the ground. The reader who sent us this picture explained that  ‘the Chinese version of the notice board mentions five specific varieties by name, some of which seem to designate form: e.g. “weeping branch plum”. For others it seems to be just a pretty name: e.g. “meiren mei” – “beautiful person plum” and note the pun on mei (plum and beautiful). These things are very significant in Chinese. Many trees have “good” qualities, e.g. people with the name Yang, meaning poplar tree, are supposed to be very upright.’

The text mentions that there are some 400 varieties known world wide, although the Beijing selection appears to be concerned with those prized for their ornamental flowers and habit – the garden, which extends to 6.1 hectares ‘is intended to serve as a scientific repository for the future cultivation of Mei, while simultaneously a pleasant and useful display and demonstration of its many forms.’  But there must be many varieties of Prunus mume valued also for their fruit, which is an important ingredient in Chinese and Japanese cuisine – made into a sauce, an alcoholic drink and pickled, as ‘umeboshi plums’ in Japan.

Prunus mume, as the variety Beni- shi- dare (alternatively spelt Beni-Shi-Don) and of  Japanese origin, is in flower now in Kent – in early March and often in February. The blossom is exquisite – deep pink and intensely scented; every time you walk past there is a waft of perfume. Yet despite the large number of varieties known this appears to be the only one seen on sale in the UK. Perhaps this is understandable since, as it flowers so early, Prunus mume needs a very sheltered spot to avoid being caught by a spring frost and the chances that it will set fruit must be remote. Nevertheless, it would be interesting to know more about Prunus mume, if any reader has experience of growing this small tree and indeed fruiting it.

Joan Morgan

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