Long, long ago the garden here at Barn House was a productive orchard. The house itself started as a humble apple barn, built in 1780, the telltale steps leading to the second storey loading platform still remain today.
Over the following hundred years a few workers cottages were tagged on in a row, the fruit they grew supplied a local cider maker.
The sole remaining door with the storm porch is now our front door but you can still see where the other doors would have been from outlines in the stonework. Over the last century quite a lot has changed in the garden. In 2011 we terraced the once rocky slope in front of the house to create a bold, contemporary but naturalistic garden that we hoped would suit the warmly wooded setting of the surrounding countryside.
A dozen well-spaced fruit trees remain to remind us of times past. Apart from four stand alone Bramleys, probably dating back to this variety’s heyday of the 1940s, most of the apple and pear trees are either unproductive or less than palatable. Nevertheless, they deserve to be cherished. If nothing else, they reward the bees with a show of blossom in spring, and, in the autumn, flocks of ground feeding birds feast on the windfalls leaving neatly scooped out apple skin shells in their wake.
Most of the smaller trees in the little orchard in the back garden are standards with a traditional, upright vase shape. As are three of the four enormous but useful Bramley’s : two serve to screen out the unsightly service poles that have marched through the garden since the 1950s; and, one acts as a climbing frame for a rampant rambling rose. For many reasons, the fourth is rather special.
One unexpected bonus of felling the big blue cedar is an unobstructed view of the dome of the apple tree across the garden, especially at this time of year while the grasses are low. The giant Malteser-like sphere marks the spot where the conifer stood, fortuitously this turned out to be right in the line-of-sight from the kitchen breakfast table window.
This umbrella shaped specimen, is by far the loveliest of all the fruit trees in the garden. Standing beside the seating area in the dogs’ paddock and casting shade or shadows on the lawn, we have enjoyed so many happy times in its proximity.
Spared from wind and rain, this year’s show of cerise pink buds opening into rock striped blooms is nigh on perfect. With sighs we sat there yesterday, in awe of the tree’s renewed health and vigour. You see, when we moved here in 2006 the branches were so bald and barren that we feared the worst. Nor could we tell what sort of apple tree we thought we might lose.
When we remodelled the garden in 2011 the appleless tree’s graceful framework spared it from the axe plus we liked the sense of history that such an old tree, even in decline, can lend to a garden.
We also adored the shaggy patchwork of moss and lichen covering the network of elderly limbs.
Remarkably, the tree has served as more than a just Jungle Gym for the cats. In early winter 2014, when the water mains situated nearby sprang a massive leak the mysterious decline of the tree was explained. A metre length section of ancient pipe that ran under the stone wall was a careless way to connect the blue plastic, modern pipes between the mains and house. It must have been seeping for a very long time. What was dug up was as rusty, perforated, and so, as fit for purpose as a brandy snap. To our amazement the dear old tree, which must have been drowning by degrees, recovered in just one season. Last year’s first show of blossom was such a joyous sight.
Then came the lazy days of late autumn when the garden visitors had gone, there was such a prolific quantity of fruit that Hitesh spared a few ‘edible balls’ to play a game of fetch with Poppy. Two months before she’d lost her right eye to a very nasty secondary cancer, but like the tree, delighted us by quickly regaining her zest for life.
By the huge, flat bottomed fruit whose sunny side ripens to a rosy red and clings on right through until the end of November, the tree revealed itself to be the cook’s, cider maker’s and blackbird’s favourite : a tough skinned, tart fleshed, Bramley’s Seedling.
So many times have I leant wonderingly against a favourite padded bough thinking about all we owe to the skilful hands of long ago and thanking them for shaping this dear old tree with such knowledge, love and care.
* Footnote :
The saga of the mother of all Bramley’s Seedling apples, which was planted more than two hundred years ago, and this historic tree’s subsequent pomological adventures is quite fascinating.
If you’d like to know why the Bramley apple tree should really be called ‘Miss Brailsford’s Seedling’ you can read about it here.