Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Apple-tree Tuesday ...

It's over 250 years since George Bowes established his new kitchen garden, at sometime in the late 1730s, within the walled garden at Gibside. Part of his project included planting a row of fruit trees running parallel across the length of the garden. Just a few short weeks ago we excavated the 18th century planting plates that designated the sites of these original trees (more details in this post), and after carefully marking the centre of each plate, we replaced the soil and allowed it a month to settle. Since then, of course, visitors to the walled garden will know that this bare earth has been transformed by turf, and wooden stakes have patiently marked the spots for the proposed trees.

Last week, on a typically overcast English Tuesday, the next stage of our project sprung into action as we invited visiting families to join us in becoming a part of the garden's history, by planting an apple tree. For a few hours, the walled garden was a flurry of activity, as 22 families became impromptu members of our team for digging, planting, filling in, raking, staking and watering. Here are some of the fantastic finished results:

Although we can't be sure of the exact varieties that were planted in George Bowes' kitchen garden, we have sourced apple varieties that would have been contemporary at the time, or were known to have been used in other Bowes properties (particularly Streatlam). Varieties include cooking apples like 'Keswick Codlin', an early 19th century introduction from the Lake District, and the ancient 'Catshead', from the early 1600s, named for the way its triangular shape resembles a feline face when floating in water. In dessert apples, we've used the very old French variety, 'Court Pendu Plat', which was introduced in 1613; though the one I'm quite excited about is 'Devonshire Quarrenden', which originated in the south-west, found its way into cultivation in the 17th century, and is especially noted for its strawberry-like flavour. Sounds delicious!

The trees that we've planted are all a year old, known in the trade as maidens. The reason for this is twofold: firstly because apple trees are notoriously difficult to transplant as they age; and secondly because we need to start pruning them--using the pyramidal technique expounded by Thomas Rivers in his 1866 book The Miniature Fruit Garden--while they are still very young for the best results. Over the next few years, just as in George Bowes' time, these maidens will mature to form a grand avenue once more.

Many thanks to all the families who came and planted trees with us--it was lovely to meet so many young gardeners in the making! We really hope you enjoyed the experience and that you'll come back often to check up on the progress of your trees. Thanks also to all the volunteers, especially Val, Sharron and Angela, who helped to make this such a great day.


  1. It sounds like a wonderful day. I like that the families were included, I'm sure they'll be visiting in the future to see the fruits of their labour. Maybe the children will bring their children in years to come. The apple varieties sound interesting.

  2. Planting trees is not only time-consuming, it is also hard work, especially when you do it right like you said.

  3. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment.

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    Patios Norwich & Landscape Designer Norwich