Here at the Scottish Country Garden, there are two major jobs we need to do each year; one is the hedge-cutting, the other – the annual fruit tree pruning. Whereas the first is done by a petrol trimmer, the second task has to be done by hand, with secateurs.
We do this each autumn once the leaves have fallen off the trees, although it can take quite a few weeks to complete the job, particularly if interrupted by early winter snow-fall.
In the garden we have 82 fruit trees, mostly apples but we have quite a few pears, plums, a greengage and a Morello cherry. With the exception of the cherry, all the trees were here when we arrived, and most of them are very old, probably planted when the walled garden was originally planted in the mid 1800’s. When the walled garden was restored by the previous owners in the 1970’s, the existing stock was augmented by a number of fan-trained and espalier trees.
Most of the fruit trees are on the west-facing and east-facing walls in the walled garden, but the plums mainly live along the south-facing wall. We don’t really prune the plums, and if they do need attention, we do this during the growing season as winter-pruning can expose the cut wood to disease.
As well as 9 full-size traditional free-standing cooking apples, we have 38 pillars – these are single-stem trees where the fruits grow on very short spurs off the main stem. These are all quite old – we call them ‘the old men’, and were clearly planted by the 19th Century gardeners as a space-saving measure. These trees are all quite vigorous and put on about 60-90cm of growth each year.
In the kitchen garden, growing against the south side of the south wall of the garden are further
apple and pear trees. These are mostly grown as fan-trained trees, although we do have a number of espaliers, with their distinctive ‘90-degree’ branches, in the walled garden to offer contrast.
All the trees extend to the full height of our 10’ walls but we don’t allow them to get any taller. Most can be reached by ladder, but for the larger ‘cookers’, we have a long-handled lopper which is a marvellous invention, although it does require a steady hand!
May is a marvellous month here with a succession of scented pink and white blossom set against the fresh ‘apple-green’ foliage and illuminating the walls for much of the month. While the blossom was quite good this year, in common with many commercial fruit-growers in the UK, the apple crop here was extremely poor as a result of a succession of late frosts hitting the blooms. Some of our trees are quirky fruiters at the best of time, but this year very few pears and apples made it to the kitchen table!