A beginner’s guide to orchards, apples and fruit trees


Back in early 2010, one newcomer to orchards and apples, made his slow way down a Cumbrian Farm field, towards a yurt – as you do – from which much studious discussion could be heard emanating. Learning that day, during the annual local orchard group training workshop, to graft a very first apple tree by hand, this somewhat still green around the ears Orchardsman found himself bereft of £8, and a fully signed up new member of the Group. Whilst having heard the terms ‘grafting’, ‘bare rootstock’, even ‘orchard’, what each necessarily actually meant, and how you ‘did it’, was somewhat new to me. So too were the range of apple and fruit varieties traditional to Westmorland, Lancashire, Cumberland, and Yorkshire, those that best suited our temperate North West climate, or the fascinating diversity and evocatively named varieties of apple found nationwide. Two years on, now clearly infected with the apple bug, having grafted somewhat over 200 apple rootstock (90% of which have successfully taken, or show signs of growth this Spring 2012), this orchard-apple-fruit newcomer perhaps now knows a little more, though, I suspect, still only a very little bit more about orchards. It has been described to me how fruit and orchards ‘seem to take on a life of their own, and take you in strange directions, all pleasurable …’ In considering how to set off on such a personal orchard adventure, and lifelong journey, how can you begin to learn, in our new ‘Information Age’, about any new area of interest (let alone orchards) and to learn fast?

Since the Internet has come to dominance, the past decade or more, the ability for anyone to readily and simply, find out a huge amount of detail, and practical information, about any new topic has been transformed. Websites (for example, a community group’s resource guide), found through straightforward web searches, can very quickly indicate the range of apple and fruit varieties grown locally (historically and currently). A book on orchard fruit, bought online at the click of a button, will explain the differences between different types of apple rootstock, the size different trees and fruit will grow to, and how to graft. Suppliers’ websites offer a vast variety of fruit trees for sale that can be planted, for a quick, if more expensive, instant orchard.

Clearly though, whilst our Information Age can provide many a quick fix of knowledge, any orchard or apple journey, or new interest, needs to blend both information that’s out there (and is sensible and accurate), with the personal knowledge and skills of others, from experience – whether or not passed on face to face – as well as practical experience found out whilst getting on and ‘doing it’. Whilst the Internet makes the world far smaller, it equally can seem very isolated; many a new skill may now be learnt alone. The pain felt, and flow of blood, on inadvertently slicing a sharp steel blade deep into a finger, whilst grafting, then no longer chuckling on soon doing the same yet again, for example, is a somewhat practical lesson; so too, is finding out what will happen to the trunk of a grafted apple if one year you leave the grafting tape on too long (a narrowed trunk), the next year then remove the tape too early (where the faintest breeze half cocks a row of grafts untethered by cane). A pal, a neighbour, a fruit expert, may well have commented ‘you plonker’, with a grin; alternatively, s/he might have foreseen what was to come, and advised. Take a mystery apple to an Autumn Apple day event and an expert may well instantly be able to identify it; try pushing an apple (fruit, not computer) into a CD drive, and you’ll end up wiser, though not about the variety of fruit. Nevertheless, the accessibility of digital information, in learning oneself, and from the practical experience of others – let’s not forget orchard groups – as well as asking for help and advice, work very well together.

The following summaries offer a selection of resources that I’ve personally found helpful, the past two years, whilst starting to find out about apples, orchards and fruit, and which may be of benefit to the newcomer (or more experienced Orchardsman alike) looking to find out more themselves. All were found via the web – you just need a PC that can access the Internet, along with a touch of common sense.

Internet resources

In getting to know about local, regional, and historic northern apple varieties, then starting to research heritage apples nationally, and how to grow them, Google has provided an invaluable resource.

www.google.co.uk Internet search engine
www.amazon.co.uk books published and available to buy
www.abebooks.co.uk (mainly) second hand books for sale
www.ebay.co.uk auction site
www.scholar.google.co.uk journal articles & reports

Google is arguably ‘The’ Internet search engine when looking for information on anything & everything, and is a key starting point for a majority of information searches. Along with the other websites listed above, it is effectively a huge database that can be readily searched. The words you search with, their order, and combinations, affect what you get back as search results. It takes some degree of experience to use Google (and its search terms) effectively, thereby restricting results to those most relevant to needs. Yes – the Internet has its (not so hidden) dangers; can what you find be relied upon? There is much duplication; you need to be sensible. Amazon can not only sell you most books in print, at discount, it also can tell you what is out there as a potential book resource. If a book is out of print, you can try finding it via Abebooks. If prices seem high, any given book may well be currently or eventually available through EBay, and potentially cheaper via auction. Obtaining relevant academic papers and reports is somewhat more problematic, potentially requiring access passwords to search for then obtain online, articles of interest via academic search engines and institutions. Google Scholar, focussing on papers and reports, offers a simpler free way of getting an idea of what specialist material has been published.

Orchard and apple books

Whilst any partial listing of books represents a personal selection or review, I’ve found the following more recent publications (here ordered by publication date) highly informative.

Ben Pike. 2011. The Fruit Tree Handbook. Green Books.
Rosie Sanders. 2010. The Apple Book. Francis Lincoln.
Jane McMorland Hunter & Chris Kelly. 2010. For the love of an orchard. Pavilion.
Sue Clifford and Angela King with Phillippa Davenport. 2007 (new edition). The Apple Source Book. Hodder and Stoughton.
Barrie Juniper & David Mabberley. 2006. The Story of the Apple. Timber Press.
Michael Phillips. 2005. The Apple Grower. Chelsea Green Publishing Company.
Common Ground. 2000. The Common Ground Book of Orchards. Common Ground.

‘The Fruit Tree Handbook’, published late 2011, offers a superb guide to planning, planting, growing & pruning, and developing an orchard, for the newcomer and expert alike. Rosie Sanders’ ‘The Apple Book’ offers a beautifully illustrated identification guide to near on 150 apple varieties, developing upon her earlier classic (and collectable) work. ‘The Apple Grower’ offers a US slanted view of orchards, with an organic focus, and is particularly informative for its technical perspective on orchard care, pests and diseases, and what to do with your apples. The ‘Story of the Apple’, without giving the game away, solves a long standing puzzle, tracing the natural history of where our apples came from. ‘The Common Ground Book of Orchards’ provides a community perspective on orchards, and how they can be saved, planted, developed and shared with nature and people alike; their ‘Apple Source Book’ offers many an idea of what do with apples come autumn; ‘For the love of an orchard’, delightfully illustrated, enthuses, explores and delves into orchards, apples and a range of fruit, and their place in history and literature. Do go and browse these yourself, and others. There will be other popular fruit books, used as a resource by many over decades, with now dog-eared pages, or of historic interest, that should more than justify inclusion in any such resource discussion.

Local orchard, fruit group, and individual interest websites and guides

Orchard group, apple and fruit websites, provide a wealth of information on local apple and fruit varieties, on how to grow fruit trees, provide click-on-able listings and summaries of their own recommended web links, offer a range of events through their societies, and are good sources for further contacts. Groups with similar aims can be found nationwide, the following website links, for example, supporting local initiatives nationally (Common Ground) regional interests (Northern Fruit Group), or highlighting orchard groups based within particular counties (as in Cumbria, Gloucestershire, the Isle of Wight, and Dorset).

www.northernfruitgroup.com The Northern Fruit Group

www.lythdamsons.org.uk Westmorland Damson Association
www.ncorchards.co.uk The North Cumbria Orchard Group
www.slorchards.co.uk The South Lakeland Orchard Group

Many an individual too, develops their own apple website pages. Intrigued by red-pink fleshed apples, a Google search brought me, for example, to the following webpage, with its fascinating summary and photos of these varieties.


Locality orchard guides can similarly prove absorbing, the following locality booklet, for example, being both informative and beautifully presented/illustrated.

Arnside & Silverdale AONB. 2007. Orchards of the Arnside & Silverdale AONB.

Fruit, apple and orchard resource websites

www.nationalfruitcollection.org.uk The National Fruit Collection
www.orangepippin.com/apples Orange Pippin apple and orchard website
www.orchardnetwork.org.uk The Orchard Network

The National Fruit Collection website offers an excellent resource for information on many of Britain’s apple and fruit tree varieties, for example, as held in the national fruit collection at Brogdale. Search the NFC database, by variety name, for details and images on every named variety imaginable. Orange Pippin, a joint UK – US website resource, offers an alternative wealth of information on fruit. The Orchard Network website has a focus on orchards as wildlife habitats. Common Ground has promoted orchards, apple days, community orchards & the idea of local distinctiveness, amongst varied campaigns.

Video resources and web linkage

The website YouTube, I’ve more recently discovered, offers an additional potentially invaluable resource for the orchard grower. The following 20 minute video, for example, offers a super, succinct demonstration, of how to plant, grow and prune apple trees. Google searches quickly link one website resource to another; for example, the same fruit tree grower, offering a range of advice, and click-on-able checklists, on how to plant apple & pear trees, & plan an orchard; another supplier offering a wealth of information.



Fruit tree nurseries and equipment suppliers.

Local orchard group websites, or Google searches, will provide contacts for a range of national and regional fruit tree nurseries and gardening equipment/warehouse suppliers.

Personal knowledge

I’ve always been delighted by, and marvelled at, the many many specialist clubs, societies and interest groups found throughout Britain. Tens of thousands of individuals, and more, often know far more, in their area of specialisation, or about their passion, than do many a so called ‘academic’.

Politely speak to, email, write to or telephone an orchard, apple or fruit enthusiast, explain what you’re trying to do, and in all likelihood, they will be informative, enthusiastic and more than happy to help. Without the support of local apple and fruit group members, gardeners from local orchards, and occasional apple enthusiasts nationally, my personal apple-orchard journey would not have progressed – Thank you to all. May 2012

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