Saturday, 6 July 2013

Here, there, every pear

This is a post about two orchards; one in the heart of London and the other in the heart of Kent. I came across them both, unexpectedly, in the same week.

I'll talk about the second orchard first. I stumbled across Octavia’s Orchard in front of the Nelson Mandela statue on the South Bank in London. I had spent a lovely afternoon talking to artist Gemma Seltzer, walking along the river, photographing the Body Gossip flash mob and reading their messages of love for their bodies. Then I came across two things. The first was the Queen’s Park Walk Gardens. More of that later. And then, after that pretty treat, I turned a corner and saw this:

What a marvellous sight. I walked around, learning about Octavia Hill, who founded The National Trust, and reading some great quotes. Including these:

The trees which are being grown in these giant steel wheelie bins are Cox’s Orange Pippin, James Grieve, Elstar, Bramley and Jonagold apple trees, as well Victoria Plum and Beurre Hardy Pear.

There are flowers planted around each tree, which makes them even prettier and more of an anomaly in Central London. This urban orchard will be there until Sunday 8th September, as part of the South Bank’s Festival of Neighbourhood.

The greatest tree for me was this one, as you could see Mandela in the background, and the quote seemed particularly poignant. As I write this, he is still in hospital.

The first orchard was at the end of my walk around Penshurst Place Gardens. I’d read about them in the main house – they used to be in the Jubilee Walk, but the trees were dug up and transplanted. There is a national collection of fruit trees at Faversham called Brogdale. The new orchard at Penshurst uses older varieties of fruit trees from Brogdale, and there is something wonderfully fairy-tale like about it. 

As with the Mayfield Lavender field, I had written about an orchard in my story before I visited Penshurst – but I have been to orchards many times before. This is from a pick-your-own farm called Hewitt’s in Orpington that I like to visit, taken last autumn.

This has become a post about three orchards now. And a national fruit collection, which is an orchard too, although it describes itself wonderfully as ‘a living gene bank’. There is a directory of orchards in England (sorry Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland), where you can find hundreds more.

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