Nether­lands is an oa­sis of calm in a richly planted gar­den Flavour of the gar­den At Gravetye Manor, head gar­dener Tom Cow­ard is pas­sion­ate about grow­ing her­itage ap­ples

Gravetye Manor in­WestinWest Sus­sex is renowned for its glo­ri­ous gar­dens, but in a wild or­chard on the edge of the gar­den, head gar­dener Tom Cow­ard is rein­tro­duc­ing a taste of the gar­den’s fruit­ful past

Gardens Illustrated Magazine - - Contents - WORDS TOM COW­ARD PHO­TO­GRAPHS AN­DREW MONT­GOMERY

Ev­ery sea­son has its joys in the gar­den, but if I had to pick a month it would be Oc­to­ber. The light has a spe­cial qual­ity at this time of year, some­how mak­ing colours ap­pear richer as the bor­ders reach their cli­max. This last dis­play be­fore the first frosts set in can feel like the gar­den shak­ing a fist at the ap­proach­ing win­ter. Ev­ery drop of sun­shine feels like the pre­cious last sip from the bot­tle and best of all, this is the peak of the ap­ple sea­son.

Our or­chard dates back to the 1890s when the charis­matic gar­den writer Wil­liam Robin­son first moved to Gravetye. The ro­mance of care­fully shaped trees ris­ing out of wild­flower mead­ows was an es­sen­tial el­e­ment to his wild gar­den. He chose his site care­fully, on the edge of the prop­erty us­ing the or­chard to help blend the gar­den in to the sur­round­ing for­est. The shel­tered, two-acre, south-fac­ing slope is quite pro­tected from frosts and cold winds and warms up in the sum­mer to ripen some amaz­ing fruit. Most of Robin­son’s trees have long gone, but a few an­cient spec­i­mens still re­main, mainly ‘Blen­heim Or­ange’ and a few ‘Craw­ley Beauty’. So as part of our gar­den restora­tion project we de­cided we had to plant a new gen­er­a­tion of trees. This was es­sen­tial to pre­serve this his­toric fea­ture, and ex­cit­ing to de­velop such a spe­cial crop for Gravetye’s Miche­lin-starred restau­rant.

The harvest starts in late Au­gust with ‘Discovery’ and runs deep into Novem­ber, with ‘Brae­burn’ prob­a­bly be­ing last. Most of our cul­ti­vars ripen around the sec­ond or

third week of Oc­to­ber and al­though the rest of the gar­den al­ways needs at­ten­tion, this is a rel­a­tively quiet time. So to set a few days aside to deal with a glut of won­der­ful fruit is a real plea­sure. The trees we planted some five years ago are re­ward­ing us with their first de­cent crop and the years of re­gen­er­a­tion prun­ing of our old spec­i­mens are be­gin­ning to pay off with a bumper harvest this sea­son.

Our or­chard is de­signed as a wild gar­den and or­gan­ised to­tally dif­fer­ently to com­mer­cial pro­duc­tion. In­stead of straight rows of dwarf trees, our ap­ples are spaced er­rat­i­cally, and in­ter­planted with thou­sands of nat­u­ralised bulbs. Each cul­ti­var is grafted on vig­or­ous and semi-vig­or­ous root­stocks, so the trees will be­come tall, ma­jes­tic spec­i­mens, trained into tra­di­tional, open-cen­tered, vase-shaped trees. We still ex­pect the crop to pay for it­self, and ev­ery fruit we pro­duce is used.

De­vel­op­ing fruit grow­ing at Gravetye has been one of the most ex­cit­ing parts of my job. And to see din­ers in the restau­rant, en­joy­ing fruit picked from the trees out­side, is one of the best re­wards.


This page At Gravetye Manor, head gar­dener Tom Cow­ard has been ren­o­vat­ing the gar­dens since 2010, giv­ing Wil­liam Robin­son’s 19th-cen­tury vi­sion a con­tem­po­rary twist. Here at the back of the ho­tel, the fluffy grass Mis­cant­hus sinen­sis ‘Sil­berfeder’...


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