Orchard Visit: Museum in the Park, Stroud, Gloucestershire

This post is the fourth 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 Snowshill Manor, Hidcote and Painswick Rococo Garden.


Looking across the dipping pool at the Museum in the Park garden in Stroud, with the community orchard on the left

On the same day that we visited Painswick Rococo Garden, Jo and I had planned to swing by Chedworth Roman Villa in the afternoon. But Jo had also found out about Stroud’s Museum in the Park and had read about the volunteer-led garden and orchard that has been developed in the old walled garden.

As we were staying in Stroud, and as there’s frankly very little chance of a couple of Roman mosaics being able to compete with the prospect of a walled garden, especially one with a community orchard[1], we decided to head back to base after lunch, and then stroll into town to take a look at the garden. I have to say, we’re really very glad that we did.

Stroud’s Museum in the Park is in the grounds of Stratford Park, just outside the town centre. The main building was originally built in the late seventeenth century for Giles Gardiner, one of Stroud’s many wealthy wool merchants of the era. The building was remodelled over the years and in 1936 passed into the ownership of the local authority. Today it’s run as a local history museum in partnership with the Cowle Trust. A hugely important element of the museum’s appeal is the Walled Garden, which was renovated and re-opened in 2016, after 20 years of neglect and overgrowth.

The walled garden, which is accessed via the museum’s reception area, is divided into quarters. I’ll let the description from the Museum’s website explain the layout:

“The first quarter creates a sense of discovery as the visitor goes past the flower beds following the ramped pathway to the top terrace; the second quarter contains a high quality contemporary building (the Learning Pavilion) and terracing with further flower beds; the third quarter contains an orchard of Gloucestershire apple and pear trees and a meadow area; the fourth quarter is a culinary learning garden with a lawned open space for events and activities. All this is set within the peace and quiet of the garden protected by the walls.

The planting in the ramped area and around the top terrace was in full bloom when we visited in early June and looked rather lovely, but of course it was the orchard that I was most interested in seeing.

Most of the orchard quarter is planted with young fruit trees that are still in the process of reaching maturity. Ground-cover is provided by a wildflower and grass mix that offers food and habitat to a wide range of pollinators and no doubt a few small mammals as well[2]:

In one corner, a veteran apple tree stands sentinel, with an accompanying cluster of plums; surely a survivor of an earlier productive phase of the original kitchen garden?

I sent an email to the Museum’s main address with a few questions about the orchard, and via Francesca the Front of House Manager I received a wonderfully detailed reply from Ann, one of the team of volunteers who help maintain the garden:

Me: How old are the trees in the orchards? (I spotted a couple of very mature-looking specimens – are they survivors from an earlier era, or chance seedlings?)

Ann: There is a Bramley’s Seedling which has been in the Garden for many years, how long we do not know. (We sent one of the apples to Brogdale to be identified, in 2016.) It gives wonderful, fluffy apple, almost puree, when cooked. Also there are some Victoria plum trees, which send out suckers. These trees also are in their original places in the Garden.

All of the other orchard trees except for the Stroud, “Lodgemore Nonpareil” apple which we bought to celebrate the completion of the ‘lawn’ in 2013, were purchased In 2014, as we had some funding, but we could not plant them immediately in the area we wanted as our meadow and orchard, as the hard landscaping was still underway, and the workmens’ offices ( big metal sheds) were on that part of the Garden.

Instead, we had to plant the apple and pear trees temporarily (for a year) in the raised beds, the only part of the Garden that had workable soil in it at the time. This was not an ideal start for the trees, but we had to buy them while we had the funds to do so.

We were advised on the choice of trees by David and Helen, the local business at Brookthorpe, Days Cottage. We wanted local heritage trees, and some that were in danger of being ‘lost’. We chose trees with a Gloucestershire connection, and from the South West, to represent a story of past times, as this is the Museum’s walled garden. Just before we transplanted the trees to the orchard, I think in early 2016, David and Helen came to teach all of the volunteers how to plant the trees.

We chose to plant two pear trees because we knew that there used to be perry orchards in the Painswick valley.

We were given a quince tree for the orchard from a lady who lived at Uplands, Stroud. Three garden volunteers went to her house to dig up the tree and bring it to the garden. I think this was in 2017. Finally, earlier this year, we planted a Medlar.

Me: How closely does the current layout match any known, original planting scheme? Was that same section used as an orchard in the past?

Ann: We found no original planting plans for the Garden. However, in documents for the sale of the property, Stratford Park, there was mention of fruit trees in the Walled Garden, which inspired us to create the orchard around the old Bramley. We have no evidence that the current meadow and orchard was originally an orchard.

We know from the documents that the garden was roughly divided into four quarters, as a simple plan from the time has dotted lines showing what we took for informal pathways cutting the Garden into four. But during the project to bring the Garden back to life, we did not find these pathways, except for the flagstones leading up from the wrought iron gate (we re-used the flagstones to form the top terrace).

As we found no original planting schemes, we had no pressure to re-create the original Garden. Instead, we made a Garden that would work with and for the Museum, with a base for learning activities, workshops etc (The Pavilion), space for events on the lawned area, and as in the past, a Garden which would once have provided fruit and vegetables for the House.

Me: Does the tree management involve any particular pruning, thinning and/or feeding plan?

Ann: Yes. two volunteers attended a further practical course at Days Cottage, on pruning, in 2018. We are pruning the orchard each Spring, to try to achieve an open, ‘goblet’ shape where we can, and to ensure the trees do not grow too high and so make it more difficult for us to manage. We follow advice given to us by Days.

We thin out some of the plum trees as they tend to sucker, and take advice from a professional tree surgeon about the old Bramley.

We do not have a feeding plan, but, have used our special organic feed occasionally. We try to keep the area around each tree trunk free from the meadow plants, and mulch around the base of each tree.

Me: Is the fruit used by any local food or drink producers, or sold to visitors?

Ann: We bag up and sell the Bramley apples and the plums each year, at the Museum’s Garden stall. The young orchard trees are only producing small amount of apples so far: we have made a display of them in the autumn and the gardeners and some staff have sampled some of them. Most of the apples will be good for cider/juicing. Some have a very interesting texture, though they look lovely!

Until the pandemic, there was an annual apple-juicing event at the Museum in partnership with Stroud Valley Project, so we would hope to juice the orchard apples in future years, and have tasting sessions.

Thank you so much to Ann for taking the time to provide such detailed answers to my questions, and to Francesca for sending me a plan of the orchard. Via that, I can share a list of the varieties and/or cultivars of apples in the orchard:

Apples
Arlingham Schoolboy
Ashmead’s Kernel
Ben Lans
Bramley’s Seedling
Cambridge Queening
Chaceley Kernel
Flower of the West
Gloucester Underleaf
Hunt’s Duke of Gloucester
Jenny Lind
Kenchy Pippin
Lady Sudeley
Lake’s Kernel
Lodgemore sans Pareil
Reynold’s Kernel
Rhead’s Reinette
Siddington Russet
Spout
Tippets

Pears
Buerre Clairgeau
Doyenne de Comice

…and the aforementioned quince.

That’s a great range of varieties for a relatively small space. There are some names in that list that are familiar to me, if only from the list of cultivars at Snowshill Manor – I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that Stroud Museum’s ‘Lodgemore sans Pareil’ is the same apple as Snowshill’s ‘Lodgemore Nonpareil’, just with a slight variation in naming convention – and some that are entirely new, at least some of which must surely be local wildlings or seedlings of merit that have been preserved down the generations.

The Museum in the Park’s small but highly significant orchard is carrying out an extremely important list of functions: helping to preserve and maintain some local varieties that commercial producers will likely have little interest in, providing a potential source of scion wood for other growers to graft these trees from, and helping to educate and spread the word about the importance of local fruit production and the value of growing a variety of different fruit cultivars, rather than relying on supermarket-driven near-monocultures.

All in all it’s a wonderful example of the sort of community-benefit, volunteer-led orchard project that exists up and down the country, in a wide range of places and spaces; just the sort of orchard that organisations such as The Orchard Project, the East of England Apples and Orchards Project, Fruit Works, the Northern Fruit Group, the Marcher Apple Network, the Gloucestershire Orchard Trust and I’m sure a great many others are working so hard to establish, restore, support and promote.

If you’re visiting Stroud you really should set aside an hour or three to see the Museum in the Park and its wonderful walled garden. And if you’re already a volunteer there, then very well done indeed! You’re doing some wonderful work, do please keep it up.

I’m really looking forward to visiting again, maybe in a couple of years, to see how those trees are coming along and, if with luck they’ve had a good season, take the chance to sample a few of those lovely local apples.

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 My Dad is a keen amateur historian of Romano-British history and had asked us to find out the particulars of one of Chedworth’s mosaics. But he’s got the internet, so I’m sure he can do his own research. Sorry Dad, but… mosaics? Walled garden! Orchard!! See? No competition…
2 This has been the unifying theme across all four of our Cotswold orchard visits; each one has featured an element of wildflower planting and in each case this has added enormously to the appeal of the space. I’m sure at least part of the reason has been time pressure caused by the pandemic, but hopefully the clear ecological and environmental benefits, and the aesthetic boost that wildflowers bring to orchard spaces, will lead to this becoming the norm in future. Leave the mowers for the formal lawns. With a proper scything once or twice a year to re-distribute the seed, pretty much any (non-industrial scale) orchard space can be left long and lush for the benefit of all for the rest of the growing season.

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