Apples and Orchards
Last updated: 21/08/2013
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In Cornwall there is a history of orchards going back centuries.
Research has shown that cherry orchards can be traced back to the
early eighteenth century and reviews of agriculture written in 1811
refer to apple trees in labourers gardens as being "commonplace" as
well as " in the gardens annexed to the residences of gentlemen are
specimens of taste and embellishment supplying every kind of
delicious fruit." The main fruit producing areas appear to be the
deep sheltered valleys of the southern coast, the Tamar, the Fowey,
the Fal and the Helford and the Camel and Hayle valleys on the
north coast. In the main area of the Tamar there were 13 square
miles in 6 parishes producing top fruits and soft fruits along with
vegetables and flowers. Cider making at Haye Farm, St Veep is
thought to go back to the 13th Century.
Production covered some 1000 acres employing about 500 people.
However, many farms would have at least one small orchard in a
sheltered spot somewhere on the farm to provide fruit for the
kitchen and table and cider for the workers.
Local varieties of apples have evocative names like Cornish
Gillyflower, Snell's Glass Apple, Manaccan Primrose and Pigs Snout.
The black Tamar cherries were renowned for their sweetness and
taste rivalling those from central Europe and at blossom time boat
trips were run from Plymouth to see the massed trees in full flower
whilst later at picking time cherry pie picnics were held.
Examination of the old maps show extensive orchards that have
long since disappeared and the decline in the industry has resulted
in local varieties being scattered in gardens and farms with only
one or two people bothering to collect or catalogue them. The
County Council commissioned an exhibition that initially
concentrated on the Tamar area outlining the history of orchards in
the area, their decline and their loss to the landscape. This
stimulated a great deal of interest and this was further heightened
by Apple Day (in October each year). The first of these locally, in
1991, held at Probus Demonstration Garden was very successful with
120 varieties being identified and one variety thought to be lost,
Red Rollo, rediscovered.
In a variety of instances a series of specimens could only be
identified when someone brought in similar fruit from a tree
already known. A number of varieties were found, Spiced Pippin
amongst them, that grew on their own root stocks and known locally
as 'pitchers'. They root naturally at the crooks of the branches
and it was common practice to break a piece off and 'pitch' it into
the ground to produce a new tree. Many develop as dwarf trees
probably more suitable for the wild West Cornwall climate. Further
Apple Days have built on the success of the first and are now a
regular feature on the calendar across the county. 'Common Ground' is a national
charity largely responsible for promoting the revival in interest
in traditional orchards and for promoting 'Apple Day'.
With the support of other local organisations Cornwall Council
launched its own Orchard Project publishing a leaflet and promoting
a grant for the restoration of old orchards and planting new ones
using the old varieties. To facilitate this, in the mid 1990's, the
County Council commissioned local nurseries to propagate over 60
old varieties traditionally grown in Cornwall. Budded onto M25 and
M111 stock these one year old 'maidens' and sold to interested
landowners for replacing and extending existing orchards as well as
planting new ones. Over 3000 were provided by the end of the
scheme. Varieties of cherries have been grown in a similar manner
but the supply was restricted to the main cherry area of the Tamar
valley. Between 1993 and 1997 the project supported over 300
schemes that varied considerably in size, from 3 to 4 trees, to
250. Some of the larger schemes were associated with existing
vineyards where the owners sought to diversify. A few schemes
sought to set up demonstration / reference collections of local
cherries and apples.
The project has now formally ended but did successfully
stimulate a great deal of interest throughout the county so that
the local nursery trade has taken on the provision of planting
stock as a commercial venture and a wide range of varieties is now
Many of the early plantings are now coming into production and
local entrepreneurs are seeking supplies of apples to make local
produce such as apple juice, cider, preserves etc.
There has been a successful renaissance of apples and orchard
growing in Cornwall which we hope will continue to flourish.