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Getting fruity

by Faye Adams, garden apprentice

This week we have been steaming ahead with the first major project of 2016, planting fruit trees along the walls of the walled garden.

Over the past month gardeners Chris and Ben have been our resident problem solvers, installing vine eyes and wires that will provide support for the fruit trees and overcoming numerous obstacles on the way including uneven ground and uneven brickwork. They have succeeded in getting the wires perfectly level which will form the foundation of future training of the trees into espalier or fan shapes. With the hard work done it is down to the apprentices to get stuck in and dig the many holes needed.

We are digging square tree pits; the shape aids root penetration at the corners and prevents root spiraling, which can happen with circular tree pits especially in heavy soils. Whilst digging one of the pits a pair of stag beetles was found, they are legally protected in the UK and their habitats are under threat. We carefully moved them to a purpose built habitat located in a quiet area of the grounds with plenty of rotting wood. It is very exciting to see them and hopefully we’ll be treated to a sight of them flying later in the year.

The trees being planted have been carefully chosen by Lucy our head gardener to reflect the rich history of Fulham Palace. There are varieties with links to the gardener and diarist John Evelyn; a few were recommended in the book The Retir’d Gard’ner (c.1706) by George London, head gardener to Bishop Henry Compton, and celebrated nurseryman and designer. However the star of the show will be the Boston Russet, it is the earliest known American apple, said to have originated at the start of the 17th century, at Roxbury, Massachusetts. Perhaps one of Bishop Henry Compton’s missionaries/plant collectors saw this apple when sent to the east coast of America.

To ensure success each tree has been grafted onto semi-vigorous root-stock, this will provide each variety with enough vigour to withstand the regular hard pruning necessary to train into traditional fans and espaliers. To give them an extra boost we have also added a handful of `fish blood and bone’ an organic fertiliser that will break down slowly over time releasing a balance of nutrients. We have also been meticulous in measuring out the spacing and depth of each tree, the latter is particularly important, the ideal is to have the ‘nursery line’ (the point where the first root attaches to the stem) just below the soil surface. If the trees are planted too deep this could prevent air being available to the roots and leave the lower stem vulnerable to disease.

I’m very conscious that all our attention has been on the walled garden so I always like to take ten minutes to enjoy the rest of the grounds and there are some spring treats to be seen. A firm favourite of all the gardeners Edgeworthia chrysantha is flowering right by the entrance to the Tudor courtyard, alongside a snow white Magnolia stellata. The cherry blossoms (Prunus cerasifera ‘Nigra’) are showing off near the main lawn and one of the most beautiful Japanese quince (Chaenomeles) is flowering in a tucked away corner close to the Bishops’ Tree, if you have time it is worth searching for.

garden apprentice planting fruit trees