Wednesday, 21 March 2012



Apple trees are extremely good value as a garden plant. They are not too difficult to grow, but will provide a decent challenge to your gardening skills. Information on growing them is easy to find and getting the right varieties for your area has most likely been sorted out by someone who has then published his findings on the internet in a gardening blog or website.
Modern dwarfing rootstocks and a wide variety of tree types mean that most gardens no matter how small can find space for at least one tree.
Then with a wee bit more technical information it is possible to graft another one or two varieties onto your tree to assist cross pollination and give a heavier crop with more fruit varieties, which in turn helps to extend the cropping season.
We now have knowledge of modern varieties plus a resurgence of interest in older heritage varieties from the past so we can grow really delicious fruit that has true apple flavour very hard to find on a supermarket shelf. These dessert apples can be picked fresh from August till October with a range of varieties then stored in an airy cool place for several more months.
Cooking apples store even better and have so many uses in the kitchen and wine cellar that they should be compulsory in every garden where healthy living is high on the agenda.
The taste of a freshly picked Discovery apple allowed to fully ripen on the tree is pure bliss.
However I start my season even earlier with the Oslin (Arbroath Pippin) which is a golden coloured fruit with a very unique flavour but unfortunately is not a keeper so only grow enough that you and your family and friends can eat in its short season straight off the tree.
I covered a fair bit about apples for this locality last October, which is still easy to find in my gardening blog at

Bramley, a fantastic cooking apple

I love growing apples to pick and eat fully ripe straight off the tree, but when it comes a cooking variety there is nothing to touch the Bramley. The variety is quite vigorous, has disease free foliage, and is a very reliable cropper producing large fruit which store happily till March in a cool garage.
Commercially in controlled storage it becomes available all year round.
The fruit has numerous uses with the obvious crumbles, pies and apple sauce, but also chopped up as a stir fry ingredient, then again chopped up and added to the pan for a cooked breakfast of bacon, egg, tomato, mushroom and apple adding that hint of sweetness. Then there is apple jelly, or stewed and added to compote, chopped and added to curries, and baked in their own skin. In the years when you get a glut it is perfect for both cider and a beautiful apple wine. My first brewings may not yet be ready, (only 6 months old) but tastings so far have been very promising.
Bramley has just the right balance of sweetness, acidity, flavour and tang. It has been around for a long time as there has been nothing to beat it.
It has a very interesting history which fortunately has been well recorded.
It started life when a young girl, Mary Ann Brailsford sowed some pips in her garden in Nottinghamshire in 1809. One tree turned out to be quite outstanding. Many years later in 1846 a local butcher, Mathew Bramley bought the cottage and garden complete with this apple tree. Word about this amazing apple tree spread and ten years later local nurseryman Henry Merryweather asked if he could take cuttings to sell the apple tree. Mathew only agreed providing it could be named after him as Bramley’s Seedling.
Henry Merryweather then propagated it by grafting and started to exhibit the fruit at shows.
The fruit was highly commended by the Royal Horticultural Society in 1876, and then ten years later received a first class certificate in Manchester at the Royal Jubilee Exhibition of Apples. It continued to receive awards at numerous shows in England.
In 1900 disaster struck the original tree when violent storms blew it down. However it managed to survive and is still alive and growing today and still producing fruit.
During the early 1900’s Bramley was extensively planted as a main food source during World War 1 and continues to be widely grown in England as the main culinary variety of popular choice in a £50 million industry. Commercially it is grown in England, but domestically in the Scottish garden it is proving to be the perfect cooking apple. I still have a tray of my Bramley in use for March.

Plant of the week

Rhododendron praecox is my choice for this week. This is one of the earliest Rhododendrons to flower, (botanically “praecox” means early or premature) creating a dazzling display of bright lilac flowers in late February to mid March depending on the weather at this time of year. It only grows about two to three feet tall and likes a well drained moist soil in sun or partial shade. It benefits from a heavy dressing of well rotted leaf mold, bark chips or pine needles worked into the top nine inches of soil before planting. It does not have deep roots so make sure it never dries out in a dry summer just in case such an event occurs, as life is full of surprises.