This post is the first of a set of four, talking about the orchards that I visited on a trip to the Cotswolds in June 2021. The other orchards are those at Hidcote, Painswick Rococo Garden and the Museum in the Park in Stroud.
Snowshill Manor and Garden is a National Trust property in the heart of the Cotswolds’ green and pleasant rolling hills, fields and woodlands. Usually when anything is written about Snowshill the emphasis is on the eccentric and eclectic collection of objets d’art assembled by the Manor’s restorer, Charles Paget Wade, and the ‘arts and crafts’ style garden that he envisioned and created to complement the house. I enjoyed both house and garden but, being me, I was most engaged by Snowshill’s two orchards.
The first the visitor sees is Piper’s orchard, which was established in the 1990s and has been added to a few times since then. Located just behind the visitor centre, on the path to the café, rows of fairly close-growing mature trees give the impression of a productive orchard designed to maximise the use of the available space. A sign welcomes picnics, although when we visited nobody was taking up the suggestion. Which was lucky for me, as it meant I was able to take some uninterrupted photos of the trees.
As you can see from the gallery below, the trees seem to have been trained to bush forms in the past but then allowed to grow larger, resulting in a fairly dense canopy of multi-stemmed specimens. Clearly there’s a lot of “prune a third of each stem to an outward-facing bud” in action here.
The second, ‘main’ orchard stands on the edge of the garden, with the path up to the house skirting two of its edges. A few of the trees here are visibly venerable, although many were also established in the 1990s and some as recently as the early to mid 2000s.
Charles Paget Wade bought the property in 1919 and it seems likely – as he spent the first three years overseeing the renovation and repair of the main house and then offered one of the men who worked on it the position of gardener – that his original orchard wasn’t planted out until a few years later. So it’s entirely possible, indeed quite likely, that one or two of the more venerable trees still standing today were planted by Wade during his tenure at Snowshill, before he donated the property and its grounds to the National Trust in 1951, or perhaps were already growing and providing fruit when he first moved in.
This year the trees have either been under-sown with a wild flower mix, or perhaps the dominant local species have just been allowed to grow along with the longer grasses that surround the mown paths between the trees. Visitors are free to wander along the paths, winding and wending their way up and down the gently sloping orchard ground. Soaked in summer sunshine, with well-spaced trees and insects buzzing in the grasses, it was the very picture of an English summer: enlivening, uplifting and thronging with life and the promise of fruit to come.
A second section of fruit trees is planted in a mown area next to the main orchard, and contains (if I’m remembering correctly) mostly tight-pruned, or possibly just dwarfing, plums. The contrast between the mown and un-mown plots is quite striking; sometimes you don’t realise quite how artificial an environment a cut grass lawn can be, until you see the alternative right up against it.
There are also a couple of rather splendid mature fig trees, trained as fans against an south to south-east-facing garden wall along the long border.
I emailed a few questions about the orchards to the gardens team at Snowshill and was delighted to receive an answer from James Evans, who very kindly provided me with variety lists and plans of both orchards, and very kindly took the time to answer a few questions:
Me: How old are the trees in the main and new orchards?
James: The trees in Piper’s orchard date from the ’90s (with a few planted later). The old orchard contains some trees that have been there for donkey’s years, as well as others planted from the ’90s onwards. We don’t know exactly which varieties the older original trees are. One of the largest of the trees is, I suspect, a Laxton’s variety – perhaps Laxton’s Fortune, so probably dates from the early twentieth century.
Me: How closely does the current layout match the original planting scheme?
James: I don’t think we know that. When the orchard was replanted in the ’90s I think efforts were made to plant in a layout that matched those older trees that still remained. But I think there was a bit of guesswork involved.
Me: Does the tree management involve any particular pruning, thinning and/or feeding plan?
James: Last winter we started a program of pruning all the fruit trees, some of which hadn’t been pruned for many years. As luck would have it, we have discovered that one of our wonderful volunteers has a real talent for it. This coming winter we hope he will have time to finish pruning the apples. And we will be thinning out Piper’s orchard – removing some of the trees to allow the others a bit more room. We don’t currently feed the trees.
Me: Is the fruit used by any local food or drink producers? (I was told it’s often sold to visitors in Autumn?)
James: We pick much of the fruit, and sell it to visitors in the garden. (The less delicious varieties tend to be left for the wildlife.) We also supply the café with cookers for the kitchen. We don’t currently sell the fruit to other food or drink producers.
James and I also exchanged emails about one of those ‘less delicious’ varieties in the orchard: the ‘Wormsley Pippin’. James assures me that it’s inedible and so is one of those left for the wildlife. Which seems odd, because in the nineteenth century ‘Wormsley Pippin’ was counted as a highly-recommended eating apple;. I wonder if, at some point in the past, the ‘Wormsley Pippin’ scion on this particular tree died back and a rootstock shoot has taken over and subsequently borne fruit? That might explain the revolting taste. Or, as the tree was planted in 1988, perhaps it came from scion stock accidentally taken from a rootstock section of an old tree, or the labels were simply mixed up at some stage? Many possibilities, but the fact remains: not a good apple to eat.
Much tastier-sounding is the ‘Lodgemore Nonpareil’, raised in 1808 in Stroud, which James describes as “a nice eater with a slight pentagonal shape … fruits have firm, crisp, juicy flesh, flavour is sweet and perfumed”. That’s one I’d like to try. I might have to re-visit Snowshill at harvest time and see if they have any for sale.
Here’s a full listing of the varieties growing in the orchards at Snowshill Manor. Many thanks again to James for sending the plans through for me to take a look at.
Corse Hill (cider)
Court Pendu Plat
Flower of Kent
Gilliflower of Gloucester
Hunt’s Duke of Gloucester
King of the Pippins
Pine Golden Pippin
Red Beauty of Bath
Summer Golden Pippin
Belle de Louvain
Green Horse (perry)
Hendre Huffcap (perry)
Mulberry ‘St. James’
There are apples in those lists that I don’t remember hearing about before, some of which definitely sound like local varieties, such as ‘Hunt’s Duke of Gloucester’, ‘Tewkesbury Baron’, ‘Gloucester Royal’ and of course the aforementioned ‘Lodgemore Nonpareil’.
It’s a fantastic collection of heritage and slightly more modern varieties, many of which are local to Gloucestershire. If you’re in the area in the Autumn, I can highly recommend a visit to sample the fruit. Do let me know what you think of the ‘Lodgemore Nonpareil’ and whether or not you’re brave enough to try the ‘Wormsley Pippin’ as well.
|⇧1||In 1836, Baxter and Son’s The Agricultural and Horticultural Gleaner reports that Robert Thompson, who at the time was curator of the Horticultural Society of London’s Chiswick fruit collection, highly recommended it for cottage gardens with favourable soil.|
|⇧2||Coincidetnally, there was a ‘Lodgemore Lane’ near the hotel in Stroud that we stayed in, which led to Lodgemore Mills. There’s still a cloth manufacturer operating in part of the old Victorian mill building. They produce the green, red and blue baize used to cover snooker and pool tables, as well as the fabric used to make the championship tennis balls used at Wimbledon.|