Habitat Aid Support Our Orchard Plans

This article was written last year and has been archived here. The orchard is now growing but this is how it started.

Things are changing on Pig Row the meadow has come to an end before it has started. The meadow is an area of the garden that we have just left fallow, rather than call it home of the weeds, we moved the chickens in and wade in once a day to collect the eggs. The meadow was always doomed to fail from the start. Meadows require poor soil and that end of the garden is pure peat as it merges into the hills of Yorkshire, the sheep look over the wall at our attempt at the meadow and the neighbourhood cats hunt in the long grass. We have found dead shrews, dead mice and dead birds; the meadow is the wilderness version of a morgue. A few months ago my wife and I sat down and decided that the meadow would become an orchard, the trees would love the peat, the site was sheltered from the west by an eight foot hawthorn and hazel hedge. On paper the site had it all, the grass could be mowed, the weeds ripped up, the remaining brambles burnt out. The only problem is that at Pig Row we garden on the ceiling of the world, the International Space Station stops off once a day for a cup of tea. Now as gardeners we are told that Orchards and high altitudes don’t mix, books tell us that Cox will wilt, Conference will commit suicide and Victoria will just keel over mid soliloquy. Most garden centres don’t fare much better in their knowledge and turn to the same books that scream don’t do it. Never believe anyone who works at a garden centre, garden centres are there for the tea and wee brigade, they are there to sell product not plants. Turn to specialists, turn to the great nursery tradition we have in England, turn to the independents. This is not a punk rock and roll thing; this is not me swinging from a garden centre flag shouting up the revolution. This is question of going to people who know what they are selling but more importantly love what they are selling. I suspected I could grow fruit at Pig Row when my Boskoop Glory Grapevine survived the winter outside after its move from our old house, Drovers, which was a mere three hundred feet above sea level to the top of a hillside. The old vine is doing well, though we have had no grapes due to the grubbing up and replanting, the vine is now putting on lush green growth and there is promise of grapes next year.

Therefore when my wife and I sat down we were joined by a third party over the internet, Nick Mann of Habitat Aid (http://www.habitataid.co.uk). Habitat Aid was founded in 2009 and brought together small specialist nurseries and other suppliers under one umbrella. Habitat Aid is protecting our legacy of fruit, meadows, habitats and woodland but more importantly it is there to hold your hand, advise you and consult with you on your project. Habitat Aid works with charities protecting our landscape, our dwindling meadows, wetlands and animals. This is not a faceless corporation telling you that one tree will fit any location; Habitat Aid is about finding the tree that once grew in your area and should still be growing there today. Nick Mann wasn’t just professional, during our months of emails, Nick and I looked at every variety that could grow at Pig Row. I told Nick that there had been an orchard at the old workhouse, long gone, grubbed up for a lawn. This is common story for Nick, orchards and habitats grubbed up for new housing and industrial estates. Habitat Aid is trying to protect what we have left and more importantly rake back what has been lost through people like me wanting a few apple varieties in their garden. I’m only having eight trees but six trees or more is described as an orchard and I am sticking by that. The ground will be treated like an orchard and more importantly I will only grow varieties linked to this area or the North. Habitat Aid is reintroducing these native trees back to our landscape. My wife and I are now going to have an orchard that won’t just survive in our location but once grew in our location. Thanks to Nick we are proud owners of such apples as Flower of the Town, Hunthouse, Fillingham Pippin and the cooking apple, Balsam (prices range from £16.00 to £28.00, half of the profit goes to charities that Habitat Aid support). There are no supermarket names to be found in our orchard, our apples went with Cook on his journey. Our orchard will be home to apples that are rare, tasty and have stories behind them stretching back over three centuries. I can take our son by his hand through our new orchard and as he grows, and when it crops for the first time in three years, I can tell him the story of each tree, of each apple. 

Plant an orchard if you have the room, plant a piece of history, turn your back on the supermarket apple, it is bland, tasteless, bitter (when you consider the air miles involved) and cannot compare to British orchards or the passion and love Habitat Aid show for their fruit.