On our main web-site we have a review of ‘Orchard Archive: the National Fruit Collection’ by Joan Morgan published in Occasion Papers from The RHS Lindley Library, volume 7. Sixty years ago the Collection was established at Brogdale Farm near Faversham Kent, a Diamond Jubilee now highlighted by Tom La Dell, joint director of Brogdale Collections, the organisation responsible for public access to the Collection. The Collection is owned by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) which funds its curation and maintenance, undertaken by the University of Reading and FAST (Farm Advisory Services Team).
The Diamond Jubilee of the National Fruit Collection is, indeed, a great landmark for the best fruit collection in the world. ‘Best’ because it is the most comprehensive across the range of temperate fruits and is international in the origins of the varieties. There are 3500 of these on the one site at Brogdale, near Faversham in Kent. Here it truly has a home as the climate and soils are suited to a wide range of fruits, modern fruit growing started nearby in early Tudor times and Kent is the main fruit growing county of Britain. The collection is unique as the apples, pears, plums, cherries, hazelnuts, grapes, quinces, currants, gooseberries, medlars, cider apples and perry pears are maintained on fruiting trees and the fruit is available to the public at Brogdale.
Joan Morgan’s article in Occasional Papers is about the origins of the National Fruit Collection. Walking in the orchards it is good to bear in mind its remarkable history led by a mixture of determined individuals with great knowledge and dedication. It is somehow a truly British story with its beginnings in the Royal Horticultural Society collection 200 years ago and the mixture of amateurs and professionals who put it all together driven by their love for fruit. All the ups and downs until it was gathered together at the National Fruit Trials at Brogdale 60 years ago are extraordinary as is the story of its purpose for correct identification of the varieties – the English Williams’ Bon Chrétien pear became Bartlett in America and there are many more examples. Verified trees became important for breeding new varieties and the Collection is now part of the international community of The International Treaty of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Joan herself is one of our contemporary pomologists (many people think she must be related to the goddess Pomona) who has brought to life the fruit in the National Fruit Collection by tasting the fruits and telling their stories. This has been possible because the origins of the collections needed fruit on the trees to identify them. Genetic conservation, in theory, does not now need this as DNA testing can verify the varieties. However, at the end of the day people who buy fruit do so for the taste, texture, juiciness and seasonality, so a collection that bears fruit and that the public can try it is an important part of developing new varieties. The New Book of Apples does all this and we are waiting for Joan’s equally revealing book of pears.
Occasional Papers, published several times a year, highlights the Royal Horticultural Society’s world renowned library and is edited by its archivist, Brent Elliott, who also contributes to this volume. It is good to see in his paper how the beautiful early fruit illustrations were so important in appreciating the qualities of fruit varieties.
Public access to the Defra owned National Fruit Collection is managed by Brogdale Collections (at no cost to Defra) and we are expanding what we offer in everything about fruit from the history of the varieties and the way fruit was grown (mostly in gardens) to the future, the development of new varieties and why people would be wise to eat more fruit for their own health, especially in Britain.
The booklet will be available online on the RHS website and it would be great if readers put their views on Fruit Forum so that there is an even greater buzz about fruit and the National Fruit Collection in its Diamond Jubilee year. The fruit from the National Fruit Collection will be available at Brogdale all year with dozens of varieties to taste at the Festivals.
Tom La Dell
Occasional Papers from The RHS Lindley Library, volume 7, March 2012 (published May 2012); many colour, black & white illustrations; pp.72.
Copies of this volume of Occasion Papers from The RHS Lindley Library can be bought by visiting Lindley Library Wisley or Lindley Library London ( re-opens on 2 July), or by post from Lindley Library Wisley, RHS Garden Wisley, Woking, Surrey GU23 6QB. Copies cost £7.50 each, (plus £1.50 p&p).
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