Future of Apple Orchards?

Not having enough gardens and gardening at the Malvern Spring Show, we attended the Putley Open Gardens event on the following day (Sunday 8th May). We've been a couple of times in the past but not for a few years. Most of the gardens were the same but there were a couple of new ones. In any case, it's always nice to see how gardens develop.

The day started well when we parked the car, next to the Village Hall, in a field full of meadow buttercup ...

Car Park for the Putley Open Gardens Day

We paid our £5 per person entrance fee and received a map showing the locations of the gardens. It was possible to drive between the gardens but we chose to walk the 3 miles, including walks through apple orchards in bloom. The first stop was the Parish Church where the morning service had just finished and then through an orchard to the first garden. To the right of us, apple trees in blossom...

Apple Trees in Blossom (vertical variety)

...and to the left total destruction...

Apple Trees in Blossom (horizontal variety)

We heard later that someone had bought a house in the village and then negotiated to buy a nearby plot of land from a local farmer to keep her horses in. Unfortunately, that land was an orchard so the trees had to be grubbed out. The destruction seemed more poignant because the apple trees were felled while full of blossom.

The impression we got was that the neighbours were less than happy about the situation. Cider orchards are in the DNA of the people of Herefordshire. It did seem a bit drastic and unnecessary when there are plenty of properties in a rural county such as Herefordshire that already cater for horses. The farmer was presumably happy to sell off a small part of his land and the trees opposite had been spared the axe.

It does raise a question, however, about the viability and sustainability of cider orchards in Herefordshire. The County has a large number of both traditional and modern orchards (see above); the former contains some very old trees and apple varieties while the latter, planted using GPS-controlled tractors, use more productive varieties that suit modern tastes.

The largest Herefordshire cider producer, Bulmers, is now part of Heineken. The production (fermentation) site is in Hereford, just a few hundred metres from where we live. When we moved here in 2001, all sorts of vehicles including tractors would trundle up to the Bulmers (as it then was) site to drop off their cider apples - sometimes a large trailer, sometimes just a couple of sacks. Once the apple juice was pressed from the apples, it would be concentrated to preserve it; to be diluted and fermented throughout the year until the next apple harvest. Every September we would enjoy the glorious 'apple pie' aroma as the boilers concentrated the apple juice. Unfortunately, that operation moved to Ledbury a few years ago and we lost the autumnal aroma.

There are still plenty of independent cider makers in Hereford such as Westons, Dunkertons and others. However, Bulmers is the largest by far producing 65% of the 500 million litres drunk in the UK each year.

In 2019, quite a few orchards were cut down or grubbed out. Everyone was blaming Heineken/Bulmers but the real issue was a lot more subtle. Consumers' taste buds had changed - moving away from traditional ciders towards sweeter, and fruitier, drinks. Some of the apple varieties planted 10-20 years ago to meet the perceived future demand and tastes were now out of fashion. So Heineken paid up the multi-year contracts and the farmers grubbed out the trees so they could plant other crops. Which just goes to show, prediction is hard, especially about the future.

Anyway, back to the Putley Open Gardens. The weather was warm and sunny (22 ℃ back in Hereford), and the gardens were wonderful and different. A feature of every garden was the multiple places to sit and relax...

A place to sit, relax and sip a G&T

And most of the gardens had a wild area for nature...

"No Mow May" to encourage wildflowers and pollinators

Several people asked which was our favourite garden. An impossible question as the gardens were all enjoyable yet different. In reality, we would be perfectly happy to get back to our own garden and enjoy its smells, sights, wild areas and numerous places to sit.



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