Orchards – the word conjures up visions of mellow fruitfulness, bees lazily buzzing, chickens perhaps scratching happily about. But everything in the orchard is not rosy. From the peak of UK apple growing in the mid-19th century, we’ve lost most of our orchards – up to 90% being grubbed up.
First there was the expanse of global trade, then there was the competition closer to home in Europe. Growers from the South of England to the Clyde Valley just couldn’t compete with high-yielding French Granny Smiths and the New Zealand Gala. And just recently Countryfile reported on the unfair treatment of growers by the all-powerful supermarkets. But tastes change, and there has been a revival of interest in ancient orchards, heritage varieties, and growing-your-own. It may even be that the stress caused to the trees by our unpredictable climate contributes to the superior flavour of British apples! Movements like Orchard Revival (orchardrevival.org.uk) and the Orchard Project (theorchardproject.org.uk) are working to restore old orchards and plant new ones.
And here in Penicuik we’re doing our bit for the growth of community orchards – we have our own new planting of 11 fruit trees in Montgomery Park. Community orchards can play a small part in addressing the most important problems of our times – climate, ecological, and social. Ours includes 8 apple trees, all different, including Scottish varieties like Stirling Castle and James Grieve. The orchard is next to our new community garden (a PCDT project) between John St and the football pitch. It’ll be a while before a proper harvest – they’re only 1-year-olds! But there’s plenty to do to look after them and the space around them, from watering, pruning, and mulching, to planning wildflower meadows and picnic benches.
If you’d like to get involved with the orchard or know more about the garden, check out the Facebook Page ‘Penicuik Organic Gardeners’, keep an eye on our noticeboard in the Storehouse, or email email@example.com. We’d love you to join us!