I have really enjoyed getting to grips with the garden this year. Having given up our day jobs we now have much more time to work on the projects we have been thinking about for some time.
There is still a great deal to do (a garden is always evolving and changing) but I thought it would be nice to capture the end of June by offering a virtual garden tour. I have spent many happy hours simply wandering around smelling the roses and admiring the colour combinations that appear.
The tour takes you around the garden at the back of the house, down the old rose garden to the vegetable garden and then into the orchard. We then walk through the small woodland copse into the top of the new flower garden (now in its second year). Look out here for the garden visitor that was caught on camera.
After a look around the new flower garden we move back towards the house to admire the magnificant climbing roses, the circular garden near the house and then finally the garden and views to the front.
I warn you now this is not intended to be a glossy video that hides all the ‘sub-optimal’ bits of the garden! My intention is to capture the essence at a moment in time and love the way that the video picks out all the bird song. Hope you enjoy the tour.
(You can either watch the video through the embedded video below on this page or click here to view it on YouTube itself.)
The Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) is a relatively common British butterfly that frequents the dappled shade of the woodland edge. Although I had seen them in the garden they were so well camouflaged that as soon as they landed they seemed to just disappear! Finally however I have managed to have some success.
It is reported¹ that both sexes feed on the honeydew in the tree tops and are rarely seen feeding on flowers except when aphid activity is low. The butterflies are on the wing from May until October². It appears this butterfly is unique among the butterflies of the British Isles⁴ as it can hibernate and over winter either as a caterpillar or a chrysalis³.
The food plants¹ ² of the caterpillars include various grasses including Cock’s Foot (Dactylis glomerata), Yorkshire Fog (Holcus lanatus) and Couch Grass (Agropyron repens). I knew there was a reason why I should have couch grass growing in the garden!
What a wonderful year for orchard blossom we have had. More importantly when the blossom has been out the sun has shined and the bees have been flying. All bodes well for a bumper crop I hope.
I always find it fascinating to see the signs of spring moving up the country each year as I read other garden bloggers’ articles. As the temperature rises and the days get longer the blossom slowly emerges across the British Isles. I have always felt that the flowering here in Warwickshire is about 2 weeks later than where my mother lives in South Oxfordshire.
The 2015 study conducted by Coventry University in association with the Woodland Trust, British Science Association and BBC Springwatch concluded that spring moves up the country at about 2mph travelling from the south west towards the north east (how fast does spring travel up the country). There is some evidence that it is now travelling up the country more rapidly that it did between 1891 and 1947 when the figure was around 1.2mph.
For this week’s Six on Saturday I have recorded the flowering dates for the blossom in our fruit orchard using the dates on the various pictures I have taken over the months.
One: Apricot (16 March 2018)
Two: Early flowering Pears eg. Winter Nellis (23 April 2018)
Three: Sweet Cherry (23 April 2018)
Four: Late flowering Pears eg. Conference (3 May 2018)
Five: Apples (Early flowering eg. Egremont Russet, Golden Noble – 3 May 2018, Late flowering eg. Lord Lambourne, Bramley – 8 May 2018)
Six: Quince (8 May 2018)
We are located near Warwick in the UK Midlands. If you live in the south or north it would be very interesting to hear when your trees flowered so we can get a feel for how long it has taken spring to move from the south coast to the north and across the border to Scotland.
Honey Pot Flowersare wedding and celebration florists based in Warwickshire in the United Kingdom specialising in natural, locally grown seasonal flowers. We grow many of our own flowers allowing us to offer something very different and uniquely personal.
We have been making cider with our orchard apples for over 15 years now. I find it hugely satisfying and it makes excellent use of an apple crop that would otherwise go to waste.
We try to use a mix of apples. Too many eating apples and you get a rather insipid cider. Too many cookers and it is rather sharp. The beauty is that every year is slightly different depending on the apples available. You certainly don’t need specialist cider apples to make a very drinkable cider.
First of all make sure that all your equipment is cleaned and sterilised to reduce the risk of off flavours getting into your cider.
Give the apples a good wash in clear water and cut into quarters making sure you take out any bruised pieces and any bugs! Some people leave the bruised parts of the apple but we like our cider to be fresh tasting and not of old over-ripe apples.
Put the apple pieces through the crusher. The aim is to crush the apples and not chop them as this releases more of the juice.
We extract more juice by a short pulse in a food processor. You don’t want to create a pulp as this simply oozes out of the press in the next stage. The pieces need to be crushed but still large enough not to escape out of the press.
The juice is extracted using a manually operated Vigo fruit press. You need patience for this as you need to give the apple time to release its juice. You then apply more pressure and wait again. (You can always drink the juice at this stage as well – in the interests of quality control of course!)
Gather all the juice together in a sterilised fermenting vessel with a bubbler.
We add about 1kg of granulated sugar dissolved in a small amount of water to every 25 litres of juice to increase the alcohol content of the final cider (to about 7%-8%). This means it keeps much longer and will keep up to a year once bottled with no problems.
We use cider yeast rather than a general purpose wine yeast. Sprinkle the yeast on the surface and allow to soak for 15 minutes or so before stirring in.
We also add about 4 teaspoons of pectolase to the must to get a clear, fresh cider with no cloudiness.
Place the cider to bubble away until around December. Keep it in a warmish place at around room temperature. Once the fermentation starts to slow decant the cider off the old yeast deposit into a clean fermenting vessel. Leave to ferment out until the bubbles stop.
We bottle our cider into normal, sterilised beer bottles that will take the pressure of a secondary ferment in the bottle. We add one teaspoon of sugar to each bottle before filling and then apply a crown cork to seal.
The cider is then left for its secondary ferment in the bottle. This is important as this secondary ferment will mellow the cider and create the natural sparkle in the bottle.
The cider will be ready in about February or March but will keep very well for at least 12 months.
Chill before drinking and enjoy!!
22 October 2017 – Apple pressing completed and fermentation started
9 December 2017 – Racking the cider off the dead yeast as fermentation slows to prevent off flavours developing
31 January 2018 – Cider bottled and stored in cool area for secondary fermentation in the bottle to create the sparkle!
20 March 2018 – Breaking open the first bottle – yum😁
The orchard sits at the north end of the garden beyond the old rose garden. Originally planted in around 1994 it has been later extended with the addition of new pear and cherry trees and most recently an apricot.
The orchard looks wonderful in spring with all the blossom emerging in sequence, the white of the pear and cherry, the apple blossom pink and the huge dusted pink flowers of the quince. The orchard is planted in mown grassland and at the base of each of the trees are daffodils, narcissus and snake’s head fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagris)
We were looking to create an orchard that offered us fruit that you would not normally find in the supermarkets – a range of unusual varieties that offered us both cooking and dessert eating.
We also wanted an old-fashioned field-style orchard which had large (but not too large) trees. We therefore decided to buy new apple trees on a semi-dwarfing rootstock MM106 – small enough to climb in and prune but tall enough to be able to mow under.
Egremont Russet – an excellent golden russet with a distinctive nutty flavour. One of our earliest dessert apples to ripen and they are usually ripe by early October and over by late October.
Lord Lambourne – a decent sized cox-style apple with a rich aromatic flavour. Usually ripe around mid-October here in Warwickshire.
Tydeman’s Late Orange – a smaller red cox-type dessert apple with white flesh that ripens much later than the others. Usually ripe for picking early November but fine for cider making earlier. It has a good strong flavour with and almost floral undertone. It has proved to be a very vigorous and large tree and a little difficult to keep pruned and under control.
Bramley seedling- quintessential British cooking apple with reasonably sizes fruits with a red blush. Fruits can be small if not thinned early in the year. Our tree is more susceptible to scab than our other apple trees. Proved to be very vigorous and has developed into a large tree even on a semi-dwarfing rootstock.
Golden Noble – an excellent green cooking apple with large clean fruits, consistently crops well. Tends to crop earlier than the Bramley in September and October. Introduced in the early 1800’s.
Winter Nelis (Cooking) – a small cooking pear with a very good flavour. Although supposedly a cooking pear they are perfectly good to eat as a dessert pear later in the season. Nice and firm for pickled pears. Introduced 1818.
Doyenne du Comice – has remained a small and manageable tree over 20 years. Reliably produces good quality fruit. You have to watch carefully as the birds know when they are ripe (mid-October) and they will quickly peck at them before you get to pick them all. The fruits are so large that the branches do need to be supported to avoid damage.
Conference – a very well known pear which can be eaten as a dessert pear or cooked.
Williams pear (died 2015) – we have had two of these trees and they have always struggled before eventually fading away.
Warwickshire drooper – we had to grow this one (as we live in Warwickshire). It has proved to be a very productive and delicious plum with a strong rich wine flavour. Can be eaten fresh (mid-September) or cooked.
Stella – Canadian bred cherry with large dark red fruits which are easy to pick. Does not fruit reliably every year and the blossom is susceptible to frost. Needs careful protection from the birds as once ripe the cherries will disappear in a matter of hours (really annoying!).
Sunburst – very similar to Stella with large juicy fruits in late July.
Flavorcot – a very new and exciting addition to the orchard (c. 12 months) this apricot is a new variety bred specifically to crop well in the UK climate. I can’t wait to taste the first fruits!!
Some experiences in growing and managing our small orchard
Vigour – Many of our trees are well established and now over 20 years old. They are very productive. All the apples were purchased on a MM106 semi-dwarfing rootstock but they are all now different sizes. The Bramley and Tydeman’s Late Orange have been very vigorous whilst the Egremont Russet and Lord Lambourne have remained smaller trees and easier to manage.
Leaning – We mentioned in the introduction to the site that we only have a couple of feet of soil sitting above clay. This has meant that the trees have struggled to grow deeply into the soil and gain a foothold. The result is that many of the trees now grow at a jaunty angle having been subject to 20 years or more of south westerly winds! Nevertheless they produce far more apples each year than we need (and plenty for making cider).
Pests and Diseases – In the early years we suffered a lot from codling moth and plum moth damage at harvest time. Over the years we have used grease bands and pheromone traps and we have noticed a significant reduction each year in the number of insects we have caught in the traps. We now get very little damage.
The quince has always suffered from a fungal infection which can lead to early defoliation. Although we sprayed in the early years (and this worked well) we feel rather uncomfortable in spraying our fruit with pesticides. In recent years we have not sprayed and the crops are large and the tree comes back with great gusto the next year.
The Bramley is the only tree that seems to suffer from scab. It also suffers in some years from bitter pit which I believe indicates a calcium deficiency or irregular watering. The trees are all grown in grass and therefore in the summer there is considerable competition for any water that is available. Perhaps this is the cause but none of the other trees seem to suffer in the same way.
Biennial bearing – we have certainly noticed that the apple trees exhibit this trait sometimes especially after a year where there has been a very heavy crop. In the next year they have a bit of a rest.
Pruning – getting the pruning right over the years has taken us some time to get right I must admit. Too much pruning and you simply get masses of water shoots which don’t bear fruit. Similarly knowing which varieties are tip-bearing (eg. the Bramley) and spur bearing is key to making sure that you don’t prune off next years flower buds. You do eventually get to recognise the future flowering buds but it does take time. The subject of a whole new post in its own right I think!!
Overall – In general the apples have done extremely well but the pears have all struggled (though have survived). The quince took some years to start fruiting but is now a vigorous and productive tree. The cherries have established well but the blossom is rather subject to a late frost. Some years we get a wonderful harvest whilst in other years we get nothing.
Using the produce
As the seasons pass we will begin to post up some of our favourite recipes and how we preserve and use the orchards production. What are your favourite recipes?