Orchard dreaming

The orchard and meadow at Great Dixter in late March last year.
The work in progress of clearing.
Part way through clearing (from above). You can see the old stump we uncovered and dug out, mid-left of the picture to the right of our neighbour’s garage.
Bare root trees waiting in trugs of compost.
Marking out, digging holes and positioning stakes.
After (from above) with super-gran
Stepping-stone path laid around the trees and a lavender border planted along the path.

What do you imagine when you think of an orchard? The word has such idyllic connotations for me. It conjures up a particular image in my mind’s eye: dappled sunlight from a late-afternoon sun filtering through rows of gnarly old fruit trees, a blackbird singing its heart out, a gentle breeze moving the long grass which is dotted with wildflowers, the scent of ripening fruit in the air. It’s a serene scene and just the thought of it cheers me. There is an actual, real-life place that almost lives up to this – the orchard and meadow at Great Dixter. My heart skipped a beat the first time I clapped eyes on it but it’s too far away to visit often and I don’t think the gardeners would take kindly to me lying about under their trees on sunny afternoons.

My dream would be to have a little house in the middle of an orchard, but in the meantime (and this is very thrilling) we’re creating a mini-orchard of our very own. When we moved here, there were already a few low-growing apple trees, a plum (since gone), a greengage and a pear tree in the back garden but we always had the idea at the back of our minds to plant more at the front.

Our designs for planting the different levels in the front garden (the area that faces the sea) have evolved, as they do, and a few weeks ago we finally reached the decision to clear an area and plant some fruit trees. The end of the season for planting bare root trees (which are cheaper to buy and more likely to establish well than container-grown stock) was fast approaching but we managed to find most of the trees we wanted as 2-year-old bush, bare root stock from Blackmoor Nurseries in Hampshire. We ordered online and they arrived a couple of days later in a big cardboard box.

We ordered three apples, ‘Discovery’, ‘Red Windsor’ and a cooker, ‘Howgate Wonder’, two pears, ‘Beurre Hardy’ and ‘Doyenne du Comice’, and a ‘Victoria’ plum. We couldn’t track down a bare rootstock ‘Catillac’ pear (which I wrote about last autumn here) but I hope we can order one to plant next year in early spring.

We tucked our new trees into trugs of compost while we worked our socks off digging up overgrown geraniums and other plants to relocate, clearing brambles and weeds, moving rocks and levelling the ground. The space was carefully marked out, holes were dug, posts bashed into position, compost wheelbarrowed from the heap, and, finally, we were ready to plant our new trees. My mother-in-law was here at the time and it’s largely thanks to her that we achieved all this in such a short space of time. We truly have no idea where she gets her energy and drive but she galvanised us to get it done. (Our 17-year-old was even enlisted to help dig out an old tree stump!)

The trees are grafted onto dwarf root stock – M26 for the apples and Quince C for the pears – and will need to be permanently staked and they are planted a little closer together than recommended but we’ll keep them pruned so that enough air can circulate between them. They have 2-ft skirts of weed-suppressant fabric around their bases, covered with a thick layer of bark to keep moisture in and weeds down. David has laid a recycled stone path and we’ve sprinkled wildflower seeds on the soil in between. Newly planted trees do take longer to come out of their dormancy after planting, which can delay new growth, but there are already leaves and blossom on the apples and leaves are appearing on the pears. I’ve moved a seat down to the path so anyone going down the steps to see what’s what can sit a while and imagine how it will look in a few years.

Happily, we have had some rain since Monday and more is forecast for tonight, so I hope we won’t be using the hosepipe too much over the coming months. The nursery’s instructions were to remove any blossom and not allow the trees to set fruit in their first year – all their energies should go into establishing strong roots. I’m going to have to steel myself to prune off that blossom this weekend but I’ll admire it a little while longer…

Can you believe it’s  May 1st on Monday?! It’ll soon be time to plant out all the tender stuff. I hope you have a lovely May Day weekend, whatever you have planned.



31 thoughts on “Orchard dreaming

  1. What a monumental task this was and what an achievement! I love your little orchard, it is so well laid out and once the wildflowers will grow and your trees in leave, it will be almost like Great Dixter. x


  2. Well done you, you’ve worked very hard and it’s looking lovely. I have a dream of an orchard with chickens and bees. In the meantime I’m squeezing fruit trees in where I can. I have those two pears as well, they’re a great choice. The Beurre Hardy is particularly good, the fruits are enormous and beautifully round. We go past a wonderful old orchard when we do our bird survey, in fact the same organisation are surveying the old orchards in the area. They really are wonderful places, teeming with wildlife and with all sorts of ancient apple varieties. Good luck with your new trees, it will be so exciting to see them burst into life. CJ xx


    1. Ooh, yes, chickens and bees. We’re such romantics, aren’t we?! Good to hear the pears were the right choice; fingers crossed they’ll grow well.


  3. So exciting to see this dream moving to fruition (Ha!). We’ve just added our first fruit trees ever (one apple, one fig) to our small rooftop garden — small varieties growing in containers, and we’ll have to wait and see how that works. But I was thrilled today to see that the pink buds are swelling in a small constellation above a frill of green leaves, very similar to the photo you have above. Of course, your orchard will be considerably more productive and entirely more idyllic, and I hope you’ll keep us apprised of progress as it grows… Thank you for sharing the process so far.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m sure your orchard is going to look fabulous; I can already imagine the blog posts written from the shade of your apple trees. Won’t be long …
    We’ve made the mistake of planting fruit trees too close. When planting that stick of a tree, it’s hard to imagine just how much they spread when mature.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha, yes, one day…! I agree that it’s hard to imagine sticks growing into mature trees – hopefully these will be ok.


  5. I always used to think that the Garden of Eden had to be an orchard, what with the apple tree and all. Presumably there were lots of other fruits that weren’t forbidden. Your orchard is an exciting project, I look forward to next year’s blooms!


  6. I’m impressed with how you measured the spacing. I tend to just dig willy-nilly and hope that the spacing works out. Your way is much better. What an exciting project. I love watching my little orchard grow. There is something magical about orchards. I am looking forward to watching yours too.


    1. That’s David’s thing, measuring. If it was left to me, I’d pace it out and plonk them in. He’s much more methodical and technically minded than I am!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. That is so exciting an orchard has always been one of my dreams too. It looks as if you have some protection there from the sea winds. It look forward to watching them grow and produce a good harvest. Sarah x

    Liked by 1 person

  8. What an exciting project – and did it really all take shape quite as quickly as it sounded? How wonderful it will be to watch the orchard’s progression, even its first year ☺

    Liked by 1 person

  9. What a marvellous project, not just for yourselves who will no doubt revel in years of blossom and apples, but for generations to come. How interesting too, we’ve inherited an old and largely non productive orchard whereas you are establishing one from scratch. So inspiring!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Kate. I hope our trees will bear fruit for years to come but I suppose they can’t go on producing fruit forever. Yours are probably in old age and enjoying a happy retirement with you!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Fabulous! I love the attention to detail and can’t wait for more of an update as the months roll by. Good job – and lucky you having an energetic mother in law!

    Liked by 1 person

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