The planting of any orchard in the UK is a wonderful thing. I applaud anyone who takes time out to bring back to our landscape what England was once famous for. Kent was once the garden of the UK, it brimmed with fruit orchards and soft fruit farms. Even where we live, the old maps show market gardens and orchards, long gone due to financial decline and the decline of the old railway that ran through our valley. Long gone are the days of that little train line taking local crops and goods to the city. This is rather a romantic view of the life once lived here but you can't plant a real orchard without being a little romantic.
However, when we took the step to plant our small orchard we wanted local and regional varieties. Unfortunately, when we came to plums we could not do this. The problem with plums is not that we couldn't track down local varieties, we couldn't find local varieties that would cope at our altitude (1300 feet). Yet, we wouldn't want to be without a Greengage, a Belle du Louvain and the glorious Merryweather Damson. This brings me to the concern about many orchards, when it comes to commercial orchards we know that Braeburn and Gala may be king, though these apples come from the southern hemisphere but in our gardens we do need to be a little more ethical with a nod to our heritage. All apples have had a journey and I believe, for me and my family that that journey must be linked to the landscape you live in. You could go to the National Fruit Collectio at Brogdale who can advise you on this or to such organisations at Habitat Aid who are going beyond just saving old apple varieties, they want to save the entire landscape. We are with them there. We must introduce sympathetic plants that belong in our landscape, from bee and bug friendly wild plants to cultivated plants and trees. It is not just a question of being a gardener, of creating something for the family or yourself, it is the fact that we are custodians and no matter how much we love a Braeburn, we should give time to varieties we may never try like Fillingham Pippin or Hunt House. These are varieties linked to Yorkshire and though we may never know what apples grew once on these hills, this is the first step to creating something more ethical, something that is linked to our landscape. For the record, I planted my orchard bare root and at the same time I planted a much loved and commercial variety readily available in the supermarkets. Come spring of 2012, my little orchard of heritage apples had survived eight foot snow drifts, bracing gale force winds and came into glorious blossom and the commercial variety had curled up and died. Sometimes the landscape remembers and gets its own back.
A little more on our orchard
In the Orchard: Late Summer (includes a film)