Homegrown apples are a world apart from supermarket-bought ones. An apple tree, with its gorgeous spring blossom and autumn fruit makes an attractive and wildlife friendly addition to any garden, however small. Even their bare gnarly branches in winter have a romantic appeal.
Different rootstocks mean you can have a large standard or semi-standard (M111 and M106) tree to sit under or, if space allows, an orchard underplanted with bulbs and wild flowers. Otherwise, dwarfing rootstocks M9 or M27 make smaller trees and can be trained and pruned into espaliers, fans or even grown in containers.
Apple trees can provide a focal point and structure to the garden. They can be grown in the borders, underplanted with shade lovers, or as stepovers around the edge of beds or even as a hedge of cordons. Ideally choose an open warm spot with around 6 – 8 hours of sun, although cookers need slightly less, with free draining soil, keeping their feet weed free and well mulched in the early years.
There are over 2,500 UK varieties, flowering at different times, from early ‘Discovery’ to later ‘Braeburn. It’s best to plant at least two apples, from the same or adjacent pollinating groups in order for them to cross-pollinate. (Urban gardens may well have other apple trees nearby enough though). Popular eaters include nutty ‘Egremont Russet’, ‘Spartan’ a crispy red apple and ‘Jupiter’, which is similar to Cox's Orange Pippin and said to be Monty Don’s favourite. ‘Topaz’ and ‘Lord Lambourne’ are also loved as are heritage varieties such as Oxfordshire’s delicious 'Blenheim Orange.'
Whether you like sweet, or tangy, look out for local ‘apple days’ where you can try the apples and choose the perfect cultivar to grow in your own garden. And if you produce far too many apples for eating, you can always take them to be pasteurised into long-life apple juice. Look out for local artisans offering this service.
The picture is of apples from the Genus orchard waiting to be taken to Richard Paget's juicing service, My Apple Juice in Hungerford. If you live in or near Wiltshire, you can reach him on 07825 372225 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Well worth it!