FROM their home in the village of Bankfoot, north of Perth, Andrew Lear and his wife Margaret have built up an incomparable top fruit catalogue, especially apples, with more than 100 varieties on the 2017-18 Appletreeman catalogue. Like John Butterworth, that invaluable advocate of Scottish apple varieties, Andrew’s list includes a large selection of old ones such as Hawthornden and Clydeside and he’s always looking for new varieties, so much so that groups and individuals offer him more than he can handle.
He has saved varieties that would otherwise have become extinct, such as Lady of the Lake, a soft juicy eater that only he supplies.
After DNA testing some of his acquisitions haven’t matched any named varieties so the couple called one unique and particularly delicious old local pear Willowgate sausage. “The name describes the shape of the fruit, not the taste,” Margaret hastily explains.
Much as he values traditional varieties, Andrew is always keen to try new cultivars suitable for modern growing conditions. He reckons apples, like the early eater Quinte, should grow well in some colder parts of Scotland. This Canadian apple is widely grown in Norway so has the right credentials.
Andrew’s drive to widen his knowledge about apples underpins his work. He explains that the challenge is matching apples to the myriad growing conditions in Scotland. Quinte thrives in harsher conditions, but others will work well elsewhere. So, he’s keen to receive feedback from customers to help build an accurate picture.
This is especially important now, as we’re enjoying an exciting Scottish renaissance in apple growing. Groups such as Clyde Valley Orchards are working to revive old orchards and re-establish the Clyde Valley as a major apple growing region. New commercial enterprises are being established too, producing Scottish cider for the first time.
Community orchards are sprouting up, a development that will only succeed if these enthusiasts have the right skills and choose the right varieties for their neck of the woods. So, over the last 10 years, Andrew has been running courses for them.
This gives Appletreeman a unique part in the revival of orchards, but it’s a twoway process. Andrew is also learning what people need to know in order to work out the best ways of helping them.
He suggests that retired folk with a bit of land should plant apples on vigorous M25 rootstocks to produce large trees that need little maintenance. Farmers are encouraged to plant a few apple trees, M25 or M106, to earn a little extra income. And Andrew caters for folk needing small or even potted fruit trees, growing on M27 or M9 rootstocks.
Through his courses Andrew encourages modern tree management. “Too many gardeners are still using 1950s information,” he says. “Pruning needs to start as soon as you plant the tree and, ideally, people should learn about pruning before they plant so they do it right from the beginning. Then they can expect to pick fruit within the first two years.”
Excessive pruning could stimulate too much leaf growth at the expense of fruit and the wetter west coast can also encourage vegetative growth rather than fruit formation.
Where you live, the variety and its rootstock all affect how you prune.
Apple growing is undergoing a renaissance in Scotland