Apple Arch

In our last garden, Drovers, we had a cottage style front garden only. It wasn't quarter of an acre neither was it a windowbox but it was our's and we liked the packed style of cottage gardening and learnt quickly to utilise the horizontal and vertical. Here is how we used one of those verticals over the path to our front door to create an apple walk.

The beds were initially dug our on either side of the path and generous amounts of compost were dug in. We had 2x8 foot arches out of steel made (at that time they cost us around £22) and these arches were sunk in, no concrete needed they went down around 18 inches. The path was 3 foot wide. Then bamboo canes were lashed to them on the horizontal to create a rigid frame that still had some movement when needed. Nothing worse in a south facing garden than tying the whole of tree to something rigid, the tree will inevitably snap. The bamboo allowed flexibility for growth and weather.

We then planted six varieties of apples on dwarf roof stocks. We had everything from culinary to cookers. It is all down to personal choice and there are now many varieties on semi and full dwarf rooting stocks. We wouldn't advise the apple trees that are called family trees, where several varieties have been grafted on to the stock. Inevitably the more dominant variety overtakes and three trees on one rootstock leads to trees that are constantly under stress. I have never seen a family tree that lasts for long, or stays in tip top health beyond the seventh year. 

We then, as the trees established themselves over the arch under planted them with geraniums, alchemilla mollis (lady's mantle) and chives. We removed the lower branches of the trees with sharp, clean secateurs in late summer. Pruning in late summer halts growth, whereas pruning in winter will encourage growth. As the trees grew we tied the main trunk in and treated them as cordons, removing any whip growth on the laterals and keep the fruiting spurs short. We then tied them together when they met at the top of the arch, we could have grafted them together at this point, instead we removed the growing tip. All this took 4-6 years. The trees were provided with a comfrey feed at the start of spring and with a bonemeal feed in autumn. Suprisingly, as this was a front garden it created a sense of privacy in summer, reminiscent of a French walkway in Versailles or a Laburnum walk in many of our stately homes but on a much more modest scale. It gave us somewhere to sit under and gave us a heavy crop of apples year in year out. One year, we found a local child scrumping the apples closest to the fence. Their defence over the fence was that they were the best apples they'd ever tasted. Sadly, when we moved to Pig Row they had to be taken down so we could get our furniture out. The arches went to my neighbour's allotment and the trees cut down as we couldn't dig them out as the roots had gotten under the path.

This simple use of space that you pass over each day means even in the smallest garden you can have your own apple walkway, your own orchard.