If like me, living in a city means you don’t really have much garden space, so I can say I have never grown anything before in my life. But this hasn’t always been the case. From the first half of the twentieth century, orchard gardens began propping up all over England on the properties of high-status houses, sometimes owned by religious orders or noblemen. Particularly in Greater London’s county of Herefordshire, fruit orchards were easy to come across due to its excellent microclimate, which creates the perfect conditions for growing fruit. Nowadays, Herefordshire has an abundance of craft cider manufactures, like Gwatkin Cider but the county is still home to many orchards, for example, Shenley Park.
Gervase Markham (1568- 3 February 1637) was an English poet and author. Coming from a family of knights and nobles, he was largely exposed to the luxuries of the upper-class social order, making him no stranger to the operations of a household or pleasure gardens.
Markham wrote about many subjects. His works ranged from comedy, poetry, novels, and ‘how to’ books. One of his most popular works is The English Huswife.
Looking at the second part of Markham’s The English Husband I am going to explore just how the English Husbandman crafted the perfect orchard; this will definitely come in handy if you ever inherit 50 acres or land or if, like us, you marvel at those who lived in Early Modern Europe.
Crafting Your Orchard
To begin with, you want to seek out the sunniest, airiest section of land in your newly inherited property. If your garden faces south, you’re in luck, you’ll have direct sunlight from the south and west sun beaming on your property, helping the growing process.
The foundations of your orchard should look as displayed on the left. Craft a great large square, approximately 12 to 14ft, before sectioning off into four quarters. In the centre, if you’re feeling extra fancy you can add a fountained, as fashioned in the diagram, or maybe a small pond.
At this point, we’re ready to plant our fruit trees. The U.K bestselling apple is Gala apples, originally an apple of New Zealand. They grow extremely well in our climate and are profitable. Markham suggests the planting of pears and wardens (a hard cooking pear) as the next best option, and quinces and chestnuts are your third. Depending on how much fruit variety you would like, stone fruits, such as apricots, peaches etc. can be grown by the wall at the north section of your orchard.
Your orchard should aim to resemble the diagram to the right. Our smaller dots are your stone fruits, like your peaches, plums, or apricots. The centre consists of our apple trees. These are to be around 5 feet apart from one another.
Within 6 to 10 years your orchard should be flourishing. Get ready for endless plum and apple tarts!
Some tips for perfecting your orchard:
- Make sure your soil is fertile.
- Choose your fruit wisely. English climate is moderate, to say the least. Fruit trees, such as apples, plums, pears and cherries thrive in our mild climate. Remember, apples are delicious.
- Plant your summer and winter fruits at different times. Planting them together can prove problematic; this is because as seasons change the soil moisture fluctuates, which can affect the way the fruit develops.
To learn more about the history of the orchard see Pee Brown’s The Apple Orchard: The Story of Our Most English Fruit.