The Garden’s Orchard was planted as a traditional domestic orchard might have been, at the beginning of the 20th Century and the varieties used, represent those in use at that time.
A traditional orchard uses vigorous root stocks which means, taller trees with space under the branches for other activities. It makes it possible to utilise the space for grazing, placing beehives, growing soft fruit, or even for hanging a washing line. If nothing else, it provides a pleasant place for picnics, games and relaxing.
In contrast; a commercial orchard tends to have ranks of dwarfed trees where efficiency and ease of harvest are paramount. It is also different from the organic fruit garden, where emphasis is on using trained dwarf varieties to make the best use of available space.
Orchards have been planted since ancient times, mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey. The Greeks and Romans were skilled in grafting techniques. Interest in the planting and cultivation of orchards really grew in the Middle Ages. By the end of the 19th century, breeding techniques had become more scientific through the efforts of the Royal Horticultural Society. 60% of England’s orchards have disappeared since the 1950s; with some areas being even harder-hit, such as Devon, which has lost almost 90% of its orchards.
Wassailing was first mentioned at Fordwich, Kent, in 1585. It is celebrated on Twelth Night. The tradition was to ‘Wassail’ the apple trees to ensure a good crop (from the old English greeting ‘Wes Hail’, meaning “Good Health” or “Be Whole”) The owner of the orchard would gather with the labourers and their families, around one of the best fruit-bearing trees in the orchard. Muskets were fired through the uppermost branches of the tree and the womenfolk would run around the tree, banging on pots and pans. The aim was to wake up the tree spirit and drive-off the demons. Some ‘Wassail Cup’ was then poured onto the roots of the tree. A piece of toast soaked in the liquid would be placed in a fork of the tree, whilst all made a toast to the tree. During all this, the ‘Wassail Chant’ would be sung.
Some, or all of the above text may have originally been published by HDRA/Garden Organic (www.gardenorganic.org.uk) and is reproduced here, with their kind permission.