Apple trees are going bananas at Stowe!
The National Trust is reporting an excellent year for apples in its orchards, including at Stowe, due to ideal weather conditions.
A lack of late frosts and a largely warm, settled and lengthy spring resulted in a spectacular and prolonged blossom season which, when followed by rain in July and August, has helped the fruit to swell.
The harvest is also taking place earlier than usual, largely due to the warm spring which helped create the perfect weather conditions for pollinators such as honeybees, bumblebees and solitary bees to get the fruit off to a good start.
Old maps show that the orchard at Stowe existed as far back as the 1740s.
It contains more than 50 old English varieties of apple, including Bramley Seedling and Egremont Russet.
The fruit will be bagged up for sale to visitors, and some may be turned into seasonal treats in the café.
Visitors will also spy the Orchard House bug hotel, providing a home for insects that pollinate the trees and keep this historic orchard healthy.
Ben McCarthy, head of nature conservation and restoration ecology at the National Trust, said: “Traditional orchards are threatened habitats and we aim to help conserve hundreds of apple varieties and the rich cultural heritage associated with them.
“Conserving a broad variety of fruit trees directly contributes towards global efforts to maintain plant genetic diversity that is so crucial for food and economic security.
“The benefit of this diversity is evidenced particularly by the ability of some varieties being better able to weather a variety of environmental pressures – traits that become increasingly important as we face into climate change, new pests and diseases, and as we saw at the orchards in Northern Ireland this year.
“By enjoying the fruits of our labour in your apple pies and chutneys, we can put real economic value on our traditional orchards which have declined in numbers by 90 per cent since the 1950s due to neglect and a move towards more intensive fruit production.
“Our traditional orchards provide a rich mosaic of fruit trees, often old and gnarled, above a flowery spray of unimproved grassland and typically enclosed by hedges.
“This creates a fantastic mix of habitats wher rare plants, lichens and invertebrates thrive, as well as keeping our traditional landscapes alive with the sound of wassailing and birdsong alike.”
The National Trust cares for over 200 traditional apple orchards which are important habitats for nature across the country, with orchards as far north as Ardress in Northern Ireland, Nunnington Hall in North Yorkshire and Sizergh in Cumbria and as far south as Cotehele and Trelissick in Cornwall – with the majority reporting a very good harvest this year.
At Hughenden in High Wycombe, a large crop of cooking apples is already in evidence, in the walled garden orchard.
The 1.2-acre orchard at Cliveden, near Maidenhead, is possibly the only surviving UK example of a circular fruit orchard, fashionable in the mid-19th century.
The trees are trained to grow over 7ft-tall iron hoops, making the orchard highly ornamental. Varieties grown include Cox’s Orange Pippin, Charlie Ross, Beauty of Bath and Ashmead’s Kernel.
A booking system is currently in operation at National Trust properties. To find out orchards are open for visitors, see www.nationaltrust.org.uk