Tuesday 30 September 2014


I've been thinking hard about what to put in the space where the raspberries were, down at the allotment.  Raspberries are nice, I love them, but there are lots of pests at the plot and I've a feeling it will be a battle to harvest any before something else eats them.  Plus there are all those suckers popping up everywhere.

So I hit upon a plan.  Apples.  The boys get through mountains of them.  They are fairly low maintenance to grow.  And I have the framework of posts and wires left over from the raspsberries so I can grow them as espaliers.

A friend is sending me a voucher for my birthday, so I've been having a look at all the different varieties there are - currently over five thousand.  Did I ever mention I'm not very good at decisions?

There are ancient varieties such as Court Pendu Plat, which was around in the sixteenth century, if not much earlier, maybe even in Roman times.  It's still available, and it's quite appealing to me to grow the same thing that people were eating five hundred years ago.

In the garden I have a Ribston Pippin, which was first recorded in 1707.  It's absolutely delicious, although the crops aren't particularly heavy and I've heard it's prone to canker.

I've also got an Egremont Russet, another really delicious apple, this time from the Victorian era.  This year the fruits were vast, although again, there weren't too many of them.

At the allotment I've got a tiny Cox's Orange Pippin tree.  It's often considered to be the gold standard as far as flavour is concerned, but it's quite troublesome to grow.

The last apple I have is a young Worcester Pearmain, like the Cox, an apple from the eighteen hundreds.  The biggest boy ate all the fruit this year and said it was the best of all of them.  It has its problems as well though, being prone to disease and also being a tip bearer - it's hard to prune as the fruit only forms at the ends of the branches.  It doesn't store well either.

As well as these lovely older varieties, breeders are constantly creating new apples, and while I love the idea of apples with history, I know that there are many benefits to the new ones.

In the end I drew up a list.  In a notebook.  You know what I'm like.  A few points to consider when choosing two little trees from the five thousand available.  Or at least, from the one or two hundred that are easy to source.

1.  Flavour and texture

A home grown apple has to taste amazing.  This was top of my list of things to consider, although it's fairly subjective unless you go to an apple day where you can actually taste lots of different types.  But nurseries include descriptions, so you can get a vague idea of what it might be like.  Textures also vary.  I prefer a crisp and juicy apple.  Some are drier and still delicious, and some have softer flesh.

2.  Heavy cropper

We eat lots of apples.  It would be nice to have trees that regularly have good sized harvests.  Ashmead's Kernel was at the top of my list for a long time until I discovered that the crops are only light.

3.  Disease resistance

Especially important if you don't like to use chemicals, which I don't.

4.  Fruit size

I don't want anything too small.  I was completely sold on a Pitmaston Pine Apple from the 1700s, until I read that the apples were sometimes no bigger than crab apples.

5.  Storing

If the crops are heavy, then the apple needs to store for a while.  Probably not months and months, but for a few weeks at least.  And some apples such as Tydeman's Late Orange, which was also high up on my list, need to be stored for a while before they can be eaten if you want them at their best.

6.  Pollination

Apple trees blossom at different times, and to ensure your flowers are fertilised it's best to pick two trees from the same pollination group.  To make it even more complicated, some need two pollinators, so you need three trees to make an apple.

7.  Rootstock

The size of the rootstock determines the size and vigour of the tree and the size of the harvest.  An espalier needs one of the larger rootstocks, MM106.  There are six rootstocks commonly used, from M27 which is for very dwarf trees, to M25 which will give a vast tree of 6-9m tall.

8.  Harvest time

Apples ripen from late July until October depending on variety.  It doesn't really bother me when they are ready, but it's something to consider if you have lots of other apples ripening at a particular time.  Later apples come from later blossom, so if you live in a colder area, you might avoid frost damage to the blooms if you choose a later flowering variety.

9.  Cooker or dessert

Cooking apples often turn to a frothy pur√©e when cooked.  Dessert apples don't.  Even for cooking, I often prefer dessert apples.

10.  AGM

The Royal Horticultural Society gives Awards of Garden Merit to plants they consider to be outstandingly excellent.  They look at things like susceptibility to disease, so all in all it's an indicator of a pretty good variety.

Once I had my list I looked through my gardening books and at a few online nurseries.  I quite like the way this one was set out.  I'm not being paid to say that, I just thought I'd mention it as I found it quite easy to compare the various varieties.

I was very tempted by many of the old apples, ones that have been grown for hundreds of years.  I like to imagine what it was like way back then, when apples were a precious harvest and a real treat.  But on the other hand, a modern variety, with higher yields and higher disease resistance makes sense.  Head or heart?  Heart or head?  It's usually always heart with me, and I did write down the three varieties I mentioned above, Ashmead's Kernel, Pitmaston Pine Apple and Tydeman's Late Orange.  Then I crossed them out and wrote down Sunset and Christmas Pippin.  New apples with all the advantages an apple can have.  We shall see.  If you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear them.

While I'm passing, and wittering on endlessly about apples, I would just like to have a word about Pink Ladies.  Pink Lady is not an apple variety, it's a commercial brand owned by Apple and Pear Australia.  UK farmers are not allowed to grow it, and yet our supermarkets are full of it.  Each and every apple shipped here from far away, each and every apple pushing the market share away from our fantastic British orchards.  The marketing behind Pink Lady is phenomenal.  It has a logo, a slogan, a club and an all singing all dancing website with a blog and a whole section aimed at children.  The apple itself, in its plastic wrapper, with its countless food miles, is available all year round.  Don't buy it.  Please.

This is Britain.  We do apples too.  And we do them pretty well.


  1. Can't wait to see which ones you decide on. It's my first apple harvest this year and it hasn't been too good, I shall reveal more at a later date.

  2. We have an apple tree called Scrumptious something. It is ok but I am now thinking that we should have asked you before planting it! I can't bear Pink Ladies but my oldest loves them. I must tell him it is a marketing phenomenon. Happy choosing. Cx

  3. You've put so much research into this. I read it with interest because we will eventually need to decide whether we want to plant a new apple tree. Ours is not long for this world, though our harvest this year was excellent. I've never actually eaten a Pink Lady apple. I think I heard once that it has a soft, mealy texture and that's antithesis to me for an apple, so I've never wanted to try one of those. I like my apples very hard and crisp. I'm really looking forward to seeing what happens with your apple-growing.

  4. Delightful and delicious decisions! You have done your homework, and whichever ones you choose to grow, I know that you will enjoy them so much. I am sure people think I'm nuts when I pick out apples. I always hold them next to my ear and gently tap them with my index finger. If the sound is just right, I know that they'll be delish.
    Happy hunting.

  5. First of all, I find your listing very sexy. I love an analytical list.

    Secondly, I found your list very interesting and now find myself googling about California varieties. I have to tell you, my husband grew up in apple country and most of the old orchards have made way for grapes, sometimes housing, but mainly grapes in Sonoma County. He gets wistful when he talks about cutting through the orchards after school.

    Anyhow, the Pink Lady bit ... fascinating. I like them, but now I'm wary. I think they actually grow some (not native) in Southern California, but lately I gravitate towards the Honey Crisp. Anyhow, 'tis the season to learn more about apples for sure, especially the heirlooms from up North. Maybe I can do some farmer market recon. Happy Apple Growing to you!

  6. The photo with the bee is FABULOUS!

    I wonder if the Pink Lady apples that you get are the same kind that grow here in North Carolina? They go by the name Crips as well as Pink Lady.

  7. I like all apples haha I didn't even realize they were all so different!

  8. You are the apple queen! I look forward to hearing about the one you pick. Pick.. haha.. get it? :-)
    ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

  9. Thanks for the information on pink lady...can't stand when they brand food..especially fruit. I can not wait to see more of your apple journey friend! You are so going to love having all that delicious fruit for your boys! I will have to hit you up for information as I would LOVE to grow apples but have a small plot here. All the best friend! Nicole xoxo

  10. I am amazed that the pink lady is a giant marketing scam! They are grown locally here (Tasmania), but they are not one of my preferred apple varieties. And I would much rather that you all ate British apples over there in the UK than importing ours! That is truly insane, isn't it?
    I have a Fuji and a Gala in the front yard, both stock standard modern apple varieties, but crisp and perfect, prolific and mostly pest free, although I do spray for codlin moth with white oil.
    All the best for that nerve-wracking decision:)

  11. Very impressive research; I can't wait to hear which ones you eventually decide on. I only tried a Pink Lady once and, to be honest, I didn't really like it - it was also quite expensive but then I suppose it would be if it's being transported all that way. Give me a Russet or a Cox any day. x

  12. Lovely post I cant wait to see what you pick. Like yourself I'm rather keen on the older varieties & have never bought a 'Pink Lady apple' in my life. We don't eat an awful lot of apples, we seem to go through fazes but the eldest prefers red apples & the youngest green! I'd love to fit in a couple of cordon ones & when I say a couple I mean 5 so we shall see!

  13. ooh a mini orchard sounds perfect x

  14. We did a similar list when we were choosing ours and it was so hard to make a choice (we had to have a late flowerer AND an early cropper combined because of our climate)! I would imagine there are other allotments that have apple trees (?) relatively close by so there may already be pollinators around which should make the choice a bit easier. Good luck and let us know what you choose...

  15. Well I never! I did not know that about Pink Lady apples and will stop buying them. They are annoyingly one of my favourites as they are crisp, juicy and sweet. I can't bear powdery apples. Can you recommend a British type that would be similar? Granny smiths I also love but they can be a little sharp. CJ, you are awesome, I've really learnt something here today, thank you. And have fun spending that voucher. x

  16. Oh my goodness - I didn't know that either about the Pink Lady..totally boycotted now!

    I love this time of year for apples and traditional are the best.

    Thanks for all the info - I'm going to need to look soon too.

    Nina x

  17. I found this post really interesting and informative, with good pictures.
    I like apples, eat one most days, and would certainly grow them space permitting. You'll be glad to know that I eat British apples whenever possible and never buy Pink Ladies.
    I think that you should go with modern varieties. Like you I would be dithering forever about which ones to chose so good luck. Flighty xx

  18. Very happy to have found your blog via thistlebear. We have a gorgeous old apple tree in our garden but are moving house soon and I've been contemplating growing a tree in our new garden but had no idea where to start with choosing a variety so thanks so much for all the info! I'd say go with your heart, but I'm a terrible gardener so maybe don't listen to me :)

  19. Good post CJ. In my Thankful Tuesday post yesterday, I commented on how people only buy the same mainstream apples when there are literally thousands of different varieties. And then when you see an apple high glossed in wax or covered in plastic - ugh.

  20. I love your idea of planting apples. I can just imagine how wonderful that would be to pick an apple from your garden and bite into as you travel home. I like the idea of growing something from so long ago, too. I wonder what people from back then would think about all our modern food and conveniences. Hope you're having a great day, CJ!

  21. Gosh, you have done a lot of work on this CJ, I am sure that you will tend your new apple trees with equal care and attention and therefore they will grow and flourish and taste wonderful whatever varieties you settle on. I totally agree with you about the apples, I have never bought - or heard of, so the marketing isn't working on me! - of a pink lady apple, I always try and buy English apples whenever I can, even if at certain times that means endless braeburns when I fancy a change! Happy apple growing!! xx

  22. The search for the perfect apple - good luck.

  23. No good at decisions here - we still haven't decided on our new strawberry varieties. Might have to delay ordering until spring. Can't wait to hear the ones you pick.

  24. i am from tassie where we probably grow those pink ladies but even i agree with you - don't buy them when you have your own local lovely varieites and growers to suuport. isn't the world a crazy place.
    love your pictures and love all those romantic variety names.

  25. I love this post and I learned so much. We get Pink Lady apples here too! I am not going to buy them again as there are so many others to choose from.

  26. Here here ... huzzah for British Apples. Pink Ladies, Golden Delicious and the like have been banned from this house. I'm lucky in that we have lots of local apple orchards so home grown apples are available. Although hubby does sometimes buy British apple varities from the supermarket that he can't source hereabouts.

    You might enjoy this book if you don't already have it CJ ... The Common Ground Book of Orchards. I often look at my copy for fruit info. http://amzn.to/1CKi4Aw

  27. Really interesting learning about apples- thank you! I watched a programme on TV a couple of years ago about the history of the apple and how big apple production in England was until the French got hold of the root stock secret which the English developed and didn't get a patent for. This lead to the increase in production in sunnier France and marked the end of mass production in England. Well, this is what I can remember from it anyway so maybe some of this isn't exact. I haven't got an apple tree, yet, but our neighbours let us collect apples from theirs so our freezer is full
    Miss Tulip x
    The Thrifty Magpies Nest

  28. I just returned from a trip to the UK and was disappointed to see no local apples in the shops I wandered into. I'm sure, like here in the US, you need to find the right place. Wandered over here from Annie's blog. Our garden is now under snow...