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Morello cherry 23 April 2018 at National Fruit Collection, Kent. In flower 10 April 2017.

Here in North East Wales, no doubt due to the long chilly spring, we all have experienced in the UK, I have the peculiar anomaly this year of every early flowering fruit tree being late to flower and catching up with the later flowering trees.
 I cannot recall this unusual happening before but I have only kept accurate records from when I moved here in 2006. I’m keeping a record of what will and what won’t grow here in the Vale of Clwyd where we have a micro-climate and unusually low rainfall for North Wales.
 Things are certainly looking toward a bonus crop of fruit for me this year if the later fruit set on the peach and apricots is anything to go by.
 The hot dry weather from last week has pretty much suddenly burst everything into blossom in an overlapping cycle of events. The plums just overlapping the pears and the cherries overlapping the apples.

Right at this moment on the 27th April I have just into blossom 4 out of 6 apple trees, Charlotte first into flower on 24th April with Scrumptious, followed by Flamenco on 26th, Greensleeves is just opening its first flower buds today. The two Laxton Superb trees are just at the pink bud stage this year.
 Four pears: Beth was first with masses of blossom open on the 21st April this year, followed by Conference, Comice, and Williams’ still in flower.
 Also still in blossom 8 plum trees: Denbigh Plum, 2 Jubileum plum, Marjorie’s Seedling (also a mass of blossom this week), 2 Opal plums, Ontario plum and Victoria. The Victoria and the two Jubileum plums were first to flower this year on 18th April, closely followed by Opal and Denbigh, last was Marjorie’s Seedling on the 24th April. Cherries in flowering sequence this year were: Summer Sun, Early Rivers, 21st April, then Kordia on 23rd, Stella and Morello just starting to flower this week on 26th April.
 All three Apricots (2 Tomcot and 1 Large Early) and peach Redhaven all flowered later, in early March (under cover).

Philip Lunt

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Pear Woodhall in October 2007

A noble pear tree, it reached a height of 22m and a girth of 2.7m when measured in October 2007. It was felled in September 2017 when in full leaf and crop because its main trunk was deemed unsafe. By the time I saw the sawn up timber it was too late to make any good estimate of age. Centre rotted trunks are difficult anyway, especially the seemingly common star shaped brown rot pattern of Rosaceous trees. There were readable sequences of annual rings exceeding 120 years to the red rot centre; some outer-most rings were very close, perhaps another 50 or so years should be added.

I had known the tree for 40 years (we arrived as neighbours in 1979), and it never seemed to change. For me its interest was initially in its size, then, what was it doing in this garden, why was it planted, by whom, how was this vast crop used? Some of these questions were answered in time, by visiting the Suffolk County Council archives, by eating the pears and talking to local people.

The house is a listed farmhouse built around 1500 (flanked by two later and grander farms, Rectory and Abbey Farms), no more than 20 acres and a few rights to graze cattle on the adjacent Great Green; a small farmstead, one of 8 or 9 round the common. A tough unpredictable living, made worse after 1856 when the common was enclosed, and all that the house received was a few extra acres. Some land was sold, probably to survive, until just 4 acres remained. The farm became a smithy, the land worked intensively as a market garden selling produce taken by trap to two nearby market towns: asparagus, soft fruit, pears, apples, damsons, cobnuts and cherries … were documented in the Diss market archive in 1900. Right up to the 1960’s, a sequence of market gardening families made their living here. Its only recorded name other than Smithy was Rayners, the name of its tenant in the 1890’s.

When I first investigated the house was called Woodhall. Still present then were 26 fruit and nut trees, in a great range of ages; a few apples on post WW2 semi-dwarf rootstocks, large cherry trees and apples, an unidentified fig, several cobnut stools, a clump of Shepherd’s bullace. A huge moribund Blenheim Orange, a centuries-old cobnut stool, a multi-stemmed damson, and two old baking pears, one broken down wreck identified as Uvedale St Germain, the other was our 22m giant. The newest family arrived in 1985, the old pear was hung with a tyre on a rope for the children, the entire area gardenified into mown grass below the scatter of trees. The old pear was tied up with wires to support its highest branches by professional arborists. I spent hours trying to identify the fruit and nuts. The large pear tree defied identification. Clearly it was not a melting fleshed buttery pear, but delicious poached in red wine and, even by December, also eaten fresh sliced into a salad! It too was brought into the modern age; I propagated it so that I could have one too.

Woodhall pear

The fruit of pear Woodhall is best harvested late October/November and keeps until early December/early January. This is not a soft sweet beurré pear, but firm fleshed. It can be eaten raw, juicy but crunchy, and is good in salads, excellent cooked in wine, very good roasted with vegetables or meat, or fried as slices and as fritters. It has a thin layer of stone cells near core, but these are easily removed. Most of the crop from the old tree was picked off the ground, but as these pears were still hard when collected, they were rarely badly bruised. Centuries ago a firm fleshed pear like this could have been called a warden or warden pear because it kept a long time and so resembled the Medieval Warden baking pear.

By 2000 it had become clear that big old pear trees were a feature of Suffolk and Norfolk clay-land farmsteads, and that, while these big trees had diverse fruit this same clone was present elsewhere. Propagations of the Woodhall tree increased and new trees proved to be very productive, but pear identification is always difficult due to the lack of well-documented varietal descriptions, so the name Woodhall was considered temporary. By 2016 DNA fingerprinting of the National Fruit Collection’s  (NFC) 350 varieties made possible testing to see if this pear matched any of these. In 2016 the test was carried out via the Fruitid DNA scheme and Woodhall did not match any NFC variety.

Then comes September 2017. The tree was felled as being unsafe; branches always fall from old trees; the trunk was hollow. The owner asked an arborist for an opinion, and as we all know arborists come in different flavours. This one recommended felling it to the ground and grinding out the stump. Another might have said – it’s an ancient and spectacular tree with years of life, make it safe by removing the branches that may split away, reduce to it to a condition that is safe, retaining the main body of tree; hollow trees do not need to be destroyed to be safe. It was after all in full leaf and fruit and only the non-live heart-wood was affected. Its loss removed a small world of dependent wildlife. Its owner felt the loss too!

In the end I asked that the cut stump be left so there is the possibility of a shoot from the base to continue the tree and to save from maceration the aconites and ghost flowers (Ornithogalum nutans), the Suffolk orchard speciality that had been planted around its base. And if no new shoot does arise we have recently grafted trees and can return this same clone to Woodhall.

 

Paul Read

 

All that remains of the ancient pear tree in October 2017

 

This article was originally published in the ‘Orchards East’ Newsletter, Spring 2018′; reproduced here with permission.

The picture of the pear tree in fruit at the top of this piece appears also and as an example of a very old tree, nearly 200 years old, yet regularly fruiting, in The Book of Pears (2015).

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Early Rivers cherry at the National Fruit Collection, Kent.

As we have done for a number of years, we publish the flowering dates for the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale, Kent, undertaken and kindly supplied by Lorinda Jewsbury. These are the records for a selection of varieties (standards and any new accessions) from all the tree fruit collections at Brogdale.

An early start to the warm weather has really brought on the flowering for this year, as I’m sure you’re aware. The plums are roughly a couple of weeks earlier compared to last year. As an example, Victoria was in full bloom this year on 30th March – earlier than the 10th April noted for last year; the current 10 year mean (the average full bloom date) for Victoria is 8th April.

Although a number of the cherries in the Collection have yet to come into flower, the earlier varieties, again, have responded to the warm weather and Lapins reached full bloom on the 2nd April. It was the 23rd April last year and Lapins’ 10-year mean is 16th April.

The pear orchard is a sea of white once more as the trees have responded to the temperatures. Louise Bonne of Jersey, one of the early flowerers in the Pear Collection, was in full bloom on the 30th March. Last year saw it at full bloom on the 15th April, pretty much spot on for its average of 14th April.

The apples are just setting off and, of the early flowerers, Red Astrachan and Stark’s Earliest are already in full bloom. There is still a way to go yet with the Apple Collection and with the weather forecast to be a little cooler after the weekend there may be a fair gap this year between the early and late flowering varieties.

Lorinda Jewsbury

2017

PLUM

Cambridge Gage: 29th March (10% open); 30th March (full flower);

Czar: 20th March (10% open); 26th March (full flower);

Denniston’s Superb (Imperial Gage): 22nd March (10% open); 24th March (full flower);

Farleigh Damson: 25th March (10% open); 28th March (full flower);

Marjorie’s Seedling: 30th March (10% open); 1st April (full flower);

Oullins Gage: 28th March (10% open); 30th March (full flower);

Pershore Yellow Egg: 26th March (10% open); 28th March (full flower);

Victoria: 28th March (10% open); 30th March (full flower);

 

PEAR

Concorde: 5th April (10% open);

Conference: 2nd April (10% open); 5th April (full flower);

Doyenné du Comice: 3rd April (10% open); 5th April (full flower);

Louise Bonne of Jersey: 28th March (10% open); 30th March (full flower);

 

CHERRY

Early Rivers: 30th March (10% open); 2nd April (full flower);

Hertford: 3rd April (10% open);

Lapins: 30th March (10% open); 2nd April (full flower);

Merchant: 4th April (10% open);

Stella: 5th April (10% open);

Sunburst:

 

APPLE

Blenheim Orange:

Bramley’s Seedling:

Cox’s Orange Pippin:

Crawley Beauty:

Discovery:

Egremont Russet:

Falstaff:

Feuillemorte:

Fiesta/Red Pippin:

Gala:

James Grieve:

Jonagold:

Meridian:

Red Astrachan: 31st March (10% open); 2nd April (full flower);

St. Edmund’s Pippin:

Worcester Pearmain:

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Planting gooseberry bush in a wire netting basket to protect against root damage by voles

Gooseberry bush planted in a wire netting basket to protect against root damage by voles

The subject of voles and the damage that they can cause to fruit trees and bushes has arisen from time to time on the blog. Voles will gnaw away at the roots and can kill a tree.  I recently planted some gooseberries and not wanting to have problems with moles and voles I planted them in chicken wire baskets to deter both. Where moles go voles and mice are sure to follow; they all use the same tunnels. During the winter I trapped seven voles and two mice using a mole run in the greenhouse; the strawberries were disappearing just as they were nearly ripe. Has anyone else had problems with voles this year?

Adrian Baggaley

2017-mid-feb-010Basket filled with soil; wire netting will be buried under final layer of soil

Photographs kindly supplied by Adrian Baggaley

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'Best in Show', RHS Tatton Park Show July 2016; Hertford cherries

‘Best in Show’: Hertford cherries at RHS Tatton Park Show July 2016

For the first time, cherries captured the ‘Best in Show’ prize for Adrian Baggaley; he also took many other prizes at the recent Royal Horticultural Society Tatton Park Show and gained a total of 16 firsts. Congratulation Adrian!

That exhibitors managed to stage cherries at all is remarkable in a year that has been difficult for English market growers, who are experiencing a poor harvest, at least in Kent. Rain and low temperatures, with one very cold night, at blossom time gave a poor fruit set and hence a low yield.

The prize winning, large and perfectly matching Hertford cherries were grown in Nottinghamshire, not a county where market cherries are grown and where Adrian says a north easterly wind has been blowing since February. Only recently has there been some respite from its chilly effects. He grows his Hertford cherries under permanent protection in a huge ‘box’ with a polythene cover across the top and fine mesh on the sides to keep off rain and birds. This covering at blossom time, he believes, ensured his good crop of cherries. Commercial fruit growers producing cherries in covered tunnels tend to put on the covers after blossom time. In their set-up, if these are erected before the flowers appear, a sunny day can send the temperatures soaring and there is the danger that it can get too high for effective pollination.

Fruit Forum

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Merryweather Damson

Merryweather Damson

As we have done for a number of years, we publish the blossom records for the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale, undertaken and kindly supplied by Lorinda Jewsbury. These are records for a selection of varieties (standards and any new accessions) from all the tree fruit collections at Brogdale.

The flowering season is once more under way in the orchards at Brogdale. Many of the plums have reached full flower and the remaining varieties should not be too far behind. The warm, sunny weather a week or so back saw a good number of pears opening their blossom and some of the cherries began to follow. However, the weekend was a different story weather-wise and the chilly weather that came in has certainly put the brakes on the flowering for now. As for the effect of the chill on the open flowers and fertilisation process, we shall just have to wait and see.

Lorinda Jewsbury

 

2016

PLUM

Cambridge Gage:

Czar: 5th April (10% open); 10th April (full flower)

Denniston’s Superb (Imperial Gage): 7th April (10% open); 10th April (full flower); 20th April (90% petal fall)

Farleigh Damson: 11th April (10% open); 13th April (full flower)

Marjorie’s Seedling: 18th April (10% open); 21st April (full flower)

Oullins Gage: 11th April (10% open); 12th April (full flower)

Pershore Yellow Egg: 6th April (10% open); 8th April (full flower); 25th April (90% petal fall)

Victoria: 10th April (10% open); 14th April (full flower)

 

PEAR

Concorde:

Conference:

Doyenne du Comice:

Louise Bonne of Jersey: 12th April (10% open); 15th April (full flower)

 

CHERRY

Early Rivers: 23rd April (10% open)

Hertford:

Lapins: 20th April (10% open); 23rd April (full flower)

Merchant:

Stella:

Sunburst:

 

APPLE

Blenheim Orange:

Bramley’s Seedling:

Cox’s Orange Pippin:

Crawley Beauty:

Discovery:

Egremont Russet:

Falstaff:

Feuillemorte:

Fiesta/Red Pippin:

Gala:

James Grieve:

Jonagold:

Meridian:

Red Astrachan:

St. Edmund’s Pippin:

Worcester Pearmain:

 

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Prunus mume Benichidori

Prunus mume ‘Benichidori’

This year Prunus mume ‘Benchidori’ is in full flower now, at the beginning of January in Kent. There were even sprigs in flower for me to bring inside for a Christmas Day posy! This is extraordinary early: in 2011, for example,  it came into blossom in about mid-March.  Prunus mume is a small tree, rather tender in the UK as it flowers so early and planted as an ornamental rather than fruiting tree. Its flowers are exquisite and in this variety deep pink and intensely scented. That it has flowered so early is proof indeed that we have had an exceptionally mild winter. If any proof was needed with primroses and winter Cyclamen coum in flower. Do any of our readers have Prunus mume in flower, or other examples of such early growth?

Hundreds of cultivated varieties of Prunus mume exist in its homeland in the Far East. It is the ‘plum’ blossom of Chinese paintings and cultivated in China and Japan for centuries, where it serves as the harbinger of spring often flowering when snow is still on the ground. Prunus mume is grown for its fruit, as well as blossom, and these are an important ingredient in Chinese and Japanese cuisine – made into a sauce, an alcoholic drink and pickled, as ‘umeboshi plums’ in Japan. For a little more about ‘Prunus mume – the first fruit blossom of the year’, see this past post.

Can anyone give us more information on Prunus mume and how it is grown in China and Japan or anywhere else that it may be cultivated?

Joan Morgan

 

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