Saturday, 5 January 2008

A New Northamptonshire Orchard

The remnants of old, often neglected orchards can be spotted in many of our neighbouring villages. Indeed we've taken advantage of some of these to make our own 'local' cider. It's much rarer indeed to find new orchards being established, particularly in the East Midlands, and certainly not on any kind of 'commercial' scale. It was therefore a huge pleasure to hear of the establishment of a new large-scale orchard, not too far away in the North-East of the county.

Lyveden New Bield is a National Trust owned Elizabethan pleasure garden, situated in an isolated part of rural Northamptonshire near Oundle. The striking unfinished shell of the Lodge, and the gardens with their unusual spiral viewing mounds are perhaps the main reason people visit this peaceful site, but there is now another attraction with the recently completed restoration of the traditional orchard.

The National Trust have painstakingly restored the orchard on it's original site, using the same varieties of fruit planted by Sir Thomas Tresham over 400 years ago. The orchard is a text-book example of fruit tree planting and layout, with a mix of apples, pears, plums, and other traditional orchard fruit. The trees are well staked, guarded, and kept free of weeds, but the grass between the rows has been left un-mowed, providing an undisturbed habitat for beneficial insects and wildlife. The whole vista can be viewed from the bank which runs along the ornamental canal, and closer inspection reveals that all the trees have been labelled with a short description. I was particularly interested in the variety Golden Harvey Apple, also known as Brandy. Evidence of a 400 year old cidermaking tradition in Northamptonshire? I like to think so.

The trees at Lyveden appear to be on old-fashioned 'standard' rootstock, and given a few years of careful management and healthy growth, should develop into the most wonderful traditional orchard of a type rarely seen outside of the West Country and Three Counties. I can hardly wait to see this fledgling orchard develop over the coming years.

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