The achievements of the Marlborough Community Orchard in preserving our endangered heritage fruit trees deserves special mention. MCO is proud to have tracked down and awakened local interest in 10 native Wiltshire varieties of apple, some of them very rare indeed. We researched their histories, organised displays and tastings, invited pledges and – as result – were able to commission 175 grafts. Planting the young Wiltshire maiden saplings has helped save their endangered gene banks for future generations. And, thanks to generous sponsorship, greetings cards depicting “our apples” were produced to promote and raise funds for MCO.
In addition to our 10 Wiltshire varieties of apple (Bedwyn Beauty, Burn’s Seedling, Celt, Chorister Boy, Corsley Pippin, Dredge’s Fame, Julia’s Late Golden, Mary Barnett, Roundway Magnum Bonum and Wiltshire Monster), we have planted some each of 23 other varieties of apple, many of them unavailable commercially today (Annie Elizabeth, Ashmead’s Kernel, Bramey Seedling, Bramley 20, Benonii, Charles Ross, Christmas Pippin, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Ellison’s Orange, Elstar, Fiesta, Grenadier, Herefordshire Russet, James Grieve, Laxton’s Superb, Queen Cox, Red Falstaff, Red Windsor, Santana, Sunset, The Rev W Wilks, Tydeman’s Late Orange and William Crump).
We have also planted crab apples (Malus golden hornet, Malus red sentinel), cherry trees (Morello), damsons (Merryweather), medlars (Nottingham), quinces (Vranja), pears (Beth, Conference, Williams Bon Chretien), plums (Czar, Victoria), and a black mulberry tree (King James). This last was gifted to MCO by The Tree Council, one of 60 trees awarded nationwide to celebrate 60 years since the Queen’s ascended the throne.
MCO’s largest group of trees (25) is located on the edge of The Common. Planted in 2012-2013, and known as The Diamond Jubilee Plantation (DJP), its centrepiece comprises one each of our 10 native Wiltshire apples planted in a diamond-shape. Plums, damsons, pears, quinces and medlars are planted in the corners of the plot; the mulberry points towards the town centre, and below it are a pair of Information Boards outlining MCO’s “town in an orchard” concept, describing the Wiltshire apples we are helping to save, mapping the DJP trees and listing their sponsors.
The young trees do not look impressive. Most are still at a very vulnerable crèche-stage of growth and inevitably some suffer severe setbacks and a few fail completely. But with vigilant care, time and patience, when the young trees are sufficiently established to under-plant with spring bulbs and meadow flowers, the DJP will become a joyous living larder and beauty spot, a natural outdoor classroom and convivial meeting place for year-round activities and such events as pruning and grafting workshops, bee-keeping classes, watercolour drawing lessons, harvesting and juicing sessions. It will provide opportunities for children to learn about and share in those activities, also to build bug hotels and bird boxes, enjoy story-telling, blossom picnics, Apple Day festivities and wassailing, according to season.
Other big group plantings include 21 trees sponsored by and planted within Marlborough College, and 15 at St John’s International Academy. Waitrose sponsored 20 trees and brought in Managers from nearby Branches to help prepare the ground, plant and train espaliers along their car park wall; while Wiltshire Wildlife Trust sponsored 17 apple trees to grace the green space on an Aster housing estate at Roger’s Meadow.
The Brownies are among our youngest and most active orchardists. They sponsored one Chorister Boy, which has grown under their watchful care from tiny maiden sapling to a handsome treelet taller than the girls who planted it. The children of St Mary’s Under 5s are similarly enthusiastic, visiting daily the tree we planted in their playground, eager to note its progress, help tend it and share the chopped-up fruit when harvested.