Autumn in the Hebrides

At the top of the house the apples are laid in rows,
And the skylight lets the moonlight in, and those
Apples are deep-sea apples of green.

Moonlit Apples: John Drinkwater 1917

How romantic! In our largely treeless, wind swept Outer Isles the concept of the season of “mists and mellow fruitfulness” eulogisedby the romantics poets is purely metaphorical. The are no golden hued leaves to fall and whirl on the wind, no rich earthy smell of leaf mould and fungi mingling with the decadent aroma of ripening fruit. Instead think, wild wet and windy. Atlantic depressions and westerly winds in the tail of dying hurricanes, stormy seas and heavy squalls. It is time for the island gardeners to gather in the fruit harvest, although apple picking is a fairy modest activity.

I am still perservering with my dwarf apple trees in the croft garden orchard. In April 2014, we planted 12 trees and against the odds, 10 have survived, although some are in more robust heath than others. This is a minor triumph, considering that the soil is too poor and our weather is not particularly suited for growing fruit trees, even very dwarf ones.

In a good year we can harvest 6 very small apples, which are either donated to the blackbirds or added to the green tomato chutney. This year I was feeling very optimistic as in May there was blossom on almost all the trees, and the fruit began to set. Then we had a northerly gale which blew away the blossom and the tiny fruit! Northern springs can be cold, but northerly winds in May are particularly cruel.

This year the summer months were cold and wet, but I nurtured my apple trees and the reward was 12 apples from two trees – both Blenheim Orange. I would have preferred to leave them on the tree a little longer, but with the forecast of storm force winds, I decided that they would be safer sitting in the shed.

The RHS describe as “the Blenheim Orange as a culinary and dessert cultivar. This very vigorous tree is suitable for northerly, colder, higher rainfall areas. The light crops of apples have a yellow-green skin, becoming yellow and flushed orange-red, and a characteristic nutty flavour. “

As they require pollen from another variety to produce fruit, I will be cosseting all my trees, and if we have some fine, calm spring weather, perhaps I will have more apples next year.

Apple tree with apples
Blenheim Orange

The vision of carefully arranged lines of apples sitting in the garden shed and producing one of the most quintessential of autumn scents everytime the door was opened, must remain a childhood memory. However, I am content with my 12 small apples sitting in a tray next to the serried ranks of shiny jars of chutney.

6 thoughts on “Autumn in the Hebrides

  1. Ian Thorpe

    We think that is a triumph! We are about to plant a couple of espalier fruit trees in our new small garden. We need to protect them from the northerly wind that comes across the neighbouring field – if we dare call it a wind in N Wales compared to what you experience!

    • There is joy in small delights! As with all things, choosing the right variety is key. If your site is windy, you might consider dwarfing root stock and possibly espaliers. I’m sure you will rise to the challenge and succeed, and almost get more than a handful of apples in reward.

  2. Did the 12 include the two windfalls on the ground?! Well done for your crop, which you can be justifiably proud of. I remember previous posts when you have told us more about the contents of your larder, as prepare to batten down the hatches… My (red) tomato chutney has been much delayed as we have been without the Aga for 10 weeks, but it is one of my first priorities when our Aga engineer has been on Tuesday, along with cake making!!

    • Windfalls are the tithe for the thrushes, I only count the ones I can take from the tree. Hatches well battened down this week, so I’ll give you an update on the 2022 winter stock taking later this week.
      Bad news about the Aga, I hope the absence of cake and chutney will soon be remedied.

  3. Well done for getting the fruit trees so far. I know from my own very windy garden how a spring gale can put paid to an autumn harvest. This year seems to have been exceptionally windy too!

    • My small trees are very sturdy but I need to find a way of protecting the blossom from the wind without keeping the bees away!

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