Over the last few years, community groups and schools from all over Scotland have banded together to set up their own orchards. The Scottish Orchards volunteer network has played an important role and has been running a Fruitful Scotland event at the Scottish Parliament for several years. People from all over the country come together, exchange ideas and meet the six MSPs who sponsor the event.
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In his introduction, John Wilson MSP said that after people had grown their own fruit, they would see how much better this was than buying imported apples in a supermarket. He was all for growing our traditional Scottish apple varieties, an idea that was taken up by the Green MSP, Alison Johnstone. She explained that these varieties were better suited to growing conditions in Scotland and that homegrown apples would help the environment by reducing food miles.
The Gorbals Orchard in Old Rutherglen Road, Glasgow, is one of the more active groups. Started in 2004, it now has 75 fruit trees and 100 soft fruit bushes, all looked after by local folk. Apples, damsons and quinces are just some of the fruits grown in part of an old burial ground known as the Gorbals Rose Garden. Most importantly, the volunteers, including youth groups and schools, are taught how to care for the trees.
This voluntary approach to growing fruit is very different to Sir James Pringle's in the 1620s. A visitor to his Gala House in Galashiels in 1629, Christopher Lowther, noted that the worthy laird threatened to fine any tenant who failed to plant at least six fruit trees on his ground.
Pringle was right to encourage fruit tree planting, and I would encourage gardeners to plant two or three in the garden. I would urge people to choose Scottish varieties, and a good source of advice is Plants With Purpose - plantsandapples.co.uk.
With such a wide choice, I'll just pick out a few. If space is limited, you might consider a dual-purpose variety, like Cambusnethan Pippin. You can use this tasty, red-striped variety as a cooking or dessert apple. Another dual-purpose one is Galloway Pippin, an excellent late cooker that's just sweet enough to eat fresh. If you're looking for a large, sweet eater, Hood's Supreme from Edzell in Angus will fit the bill.
It's vital to know the variety you're growing. Only then can you know when to harvest the apples and whether to treat them as cookers or eaters. Biting into a White Melrose could be a sharp experience if you didn't know it was a delicious cooker. If you're stumped for a name, contact the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale (brogdalecollections.co.uk). It must be difficult for community orchard groups to keep tabs on their varieties. Labelling a tree for the long term is almost impossible, so perhaps some bright IT person should develop a microchip to insert into every tree, with a name and description.
For information and advice on apples, there are various events on this weekend.
Today: Clyde Valley Orchard Day, events and stalls at Overton Farm, near Crossford, Carluke, 9.30am-2pm. Tomorrow: The Kinross Apple Day at Dobbies Garden Centre, Kinross, 12-4pm. There will be apple juicing, a display of apples and growing advice. Harestanes Countryside Visitor Centre, Ancrum, near Jedburgh, is also hosting an apple day from 11am-4pm. If you have a community orchard nearby, check whether it's having an open day soon. Scottish Orchards will have details of other events - visit scottishorchards.com.