October is peak time for apple picking in my garden – most of the twenty four varieties growing as easy to manage cordons are ready by then. Harvesting is easy, ‘lift and twist’ gently and the fruit should detach, if not try another day. It’s a leisurely and therapeutic operation, pop five fruits in a freezer bag, punch a few holes in the sides or cut off one corner and label the bag. Some varieties are better eaten straight from the tree, others are stored for eating later from winter to the following year. The storage process has a similar effect to maturing a good wine by laying it down, the flavours change, often reaching a peak, so eating them at the right time is critical. I believe there are ‘vintage’ years for apples and pears, in the same way that there is with grapes grown for wine. They have a natural flavour and should be eaten at their peak but the location, hours and intensity of sunshine and soil type influence their flavour, which is always better after hot summers.
The varieties chosen for my garden were influenced by an Edwardian writer and Nurseryman, Edward Bunyard who wrote a wonderful book called ‘The anatomy of Dessert’ adding ‘a few notes on wine’ in later editions. As a gastronome and apple expert it is worth noting his choices. He regarded ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’ as one of the finest, complex in flavour with a distinctive spiciness, ‘Worcester Pearmain’ was valued for its raspberry hints and ‘Blenheim Orange’ for its nutty flavour – some of Bunyard’s comments reflect the era; ‘The man who cannot appreciate the nutty, warm aroma has not come to years of gustatory discretion; he probably drinks sparkling Muscatelle! For ‘Blenheim’ with added spice, grow ‘Ribston Pippin’. Others like ‘Brownlee’s Russet’ have a distinctive ‘Fennel’ flavour and ‘Ellison’s Orange’ tastes of aniseed. Grown as cordon’s along a wire, they make attractive and productive ‘living’ fences but only use only top quality, blemish free fruit for storage. From leaf fall to bud burst in spring is a good time to plant apples and other hardy fruit – there must be some space in your garden!
As the leaves are starting to fall, don’t forget to cover your garden pond with netting, either buy some specifically for the purpose or use your raspberry netting. Peg it firmly around the pond or make a temporary frame of canes and remove the leaves before their weight damages the netting. While you are out in the garden, check that all the climbing roses have been pruned, cutting out old woody stems back to the base to encourage re-growth next spring and strong side shoots from the main branches back to within two buds of the base.
In many parts of the country bonfires are not allowed – except on 5th November. Although we compost more material than in the past, if you have any diseased material or wood that cannot be used as firewood, put it on your ‘Guy Fawkes’ bonfire. Build the fire a couple of days before, so hedgehogs and other animals don’t take up residence then stand back and enjoy the show. Take care and Happy Gardening! Matt.