Building an orchard

New Orchard Site
New Orchard Site

Depending on your perspective and philosophy of life, our activities in the croft garden can be viewed as ground breaking experiments, eccentric follies or totally bonkers. On a wet November afternoon when I’m moving barrow loads of sand from one part of the garden to another I know exactly which applies. However, I was promised an orchard and that was what I was going to get come hell or high water and that is what I got – all three!

A coastal headland on the north-west tip of a Hebridean island is probably not the ideal location for an orchard. Apart from the howling gales, the climate is perfect. If you can mitigate the effect of the wind and get the soil into good condition, provided that you subscribe to the delusion that anything is possible, the impossible is possible sometimes.

I would like to claim remarkable foresight, but I suspect it was pure serendipity that the part of the garden destined for redevelopment was probably the best place for our orchard. Sheltered to the south by the fruit cage and to the north by the existing Olearia shelter belt, with a 5ft fence and a newly planted Olearia shelter belt to the east and another 4ft fence completing the boundary, it is one of the more protected parts of the garden. Although most of the severe gales roar in from the Atlantic from October to March, we can get a howler at any time, so some addition measures were needed to protect the trees during the growing season. Predictably the Head Gardener had the answer: training the trees as three-tiered espaliers against a series of parallel fences in avenues.

So it really was a case of building an orchard – or rather the infra-structure for the fruit trees. Planting on either side of the internal fences there is enough space for 12 trees. A gravel path runs between each set of fences with the trees planted in deep borders under-planted with bulbs and herbs. This part of the garden has been used for growing vegetables so the soil had been improved by regular applications of well-rotted manure and seaweed. However, the top soil is only about 18 inches deep and thereafter it is pure sand. To give the trees a good start about 18 inches of sand was excavated from each extra-large planting hole and replaced with garden compost .

The trees were planted in late November and after settling were pruned to just above the first wire ensuring that there were three good buds pointing in different directions near the top of the stem. Provided all goes to plan, the top three buds will form the leader and the two laterals which will be tied-in next winter to form the first tier of the espalier.
It was tempting to choose some of the lovely old varieties, however as our conditions are far from ideal, there had to be pragmatic compromise. So we ended-up with Bramley’s, Newton Wonder, Egremont Russet, Blenheim Orange, Cox’s Orange Pippin and Spartan, all on dwarfing root stocks.

It is now April and the trees are beginning to show green leaves and whilst there is not quite a “host of golden daffodils”, there are bright splashes of  yellow to break up the harshness of empty borders and expanses of fence. It is perhaps a little too “National Trust” for my taste and not the orchard of my dreams; however, as the garden is surrounded by fields of wild flowers was just a matter of taking the trees into intensive care. It is a wonderful gift and I’m looking forward to my first apples, golden or otherwise, in about three years hence!

20 thoughts on “Building an orchard

  1. So that’s how you made your orchard. I was wondering how on earth you would manage it in your windy spot. Genius! But what an enormous amount of work.

    • The genius is the Head Gardener, I’m just the apprentice with the shovel, the barrow and the dreams! My father always insisted that hard work never hurt anyone, although these days the body complains a little more!

  2. What an enterprise! As always, reading about your challenges reminds me that mine are not the most extreme. Good luck to the trees and the gardeners.

    • This project was a lot of fun and will keep us amused for a while yet. I think your garden is definitely on the difficult scale but I’m sure it is equally challenging at times.

  3. This is such an exciting project, and I suppose it is all about patience now! Perhaps you will have an odd apple or two before three years are out… I wonder when you could expect blossom on yours – mine are just budding up now. Will you be growing less veg now you have appropriated this part of the garden?

    • I’ll settle for leaves this year. I think in a reasonable year we could get blossom by mid-May. However I’m hedging my bets and filling the beds with plants to flower from April onwards to attract the pollinators. There will be less veg, but I can still grow enough to feed us, supply the cottage guests and have some to give away. Unfortunately the co-operative veg box scheme has ended and as I no longer have an outlet for selling my veg it seemed like a good idea to put part of the veg garden to better use.

  4. An amazing project – I do hope your orchard flourishes and wish you the best of luck!

    • Thank you Cathy. I’m really excited about this project.

  5. Fantastic. I will follow your progress with interest, and am in awe of your determination!

    • After our conversation about fish and chips you should not be surprised to find a little “northern grit” in the croft garden. I’m sure we will have some setbacks, but we have a reasonable chance of producing a few apples, even if only fit for chutney.

  6. How exciting, and yet again an imaginative, elegant and immaculate solution to the challenges. It will be fascinating to see how the trees develop, and which varieties fare best, and will provide a fantastic resource for anyone else taking up the challenge of growing apples/ or indeed other fruit in an extreme location,

    • This is one of the most interesting projects we’ve tackled for a while and if it works it might encourage others to experiment with fruit growing in unusual areas. A few people grow one or two fruit trees in polytunnels here, this is just another possible solution. My tiny apple sticks now have leaves, and as it is blowing more than half a gale today it will be interesting to see how they fare.

  7. I wish you every success and look forward to seeing this develop. With the amount of preparation and hard work you’ve put in, your trees certainly have been given every chance of success.
    I thought we had it rough having had shrubs literally blown out of the soil on a couple of occasions but our West Cumbrian winds are nothing compared to what you have to cope with :}

    • Thank you, mind you West Cumbria is not exactly a balmy tropical paradise.
      It’s been blowing with heavy squalls (April showers) for the last two days, so it will be interesting to see if the trees have survived their first battering.

  8. I’m also looking forward to seeing how this develops – and it certainly deserves to be successful, given the beautiful level of protection you’ve given your trees. I know we’re much further south than you, but a popular apple round here in Gwynedd is the Bardsey Apple, grown from one on Bardsey Island which sticks out into the Irish Sea. The original is snuggled into what shelter there is beside a building, but boy is Bardsey exposed. Keeping everything crossed for you!

    • I’ve just been to check and the tiny trees have held on to their first leaves during a very blustery two days.
      I’ve not come across the Bardsey Apple – is it a cooker, eater or both? I know Bardsey is further south but if we’re on the edge of the world Bardsey is teetering on the abyss! it is, however, a beautiful island.

  9. You are a brave and most determined gardener! Kudos to you and yours! This project looks sturdy (fortress) and well planned, and I wish you many fruitful years ahead.
    We had a late frost last night and wind, so my efforts to sheet the blooming berries and persimmon tree were a miserable failure. 80F one day 31F the next. Mother Nature is indeed testing all of us. Diane

    • What a pity, late frosts can be so destructive and wipe out a fruit crop in an instance. How frustrating!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.