A couple of weeks ago I visited The Laskett Gardens on the outskirts of the village of Much Birch in Herefordshire. The gardens were established and developed over the course of forty-plus years by art historian, museum curator, writer, broadcaster and landscape designer Sir Roy Strong and renowned television, theatre, ballet and opera set designer Lady Julia Trevelyan Oman, after the couple bought the house back in 1973. Together they created a hugely varied, lovingly biographical garden consisting of more than twenty individual ‘rooms’, each of which reflected or reminded them of an episode or extended period in their lives. Lady Julia died in 2003 and Sir Roy continued to maintain and develop the gardens until he bequeathed them to the gardeners’ welfare charity Perennial in 2015, and that organisation now owns and manages the site, which is currently open to the public for two days a week.
The garden areas most likely to be of particular interest to myself and fellow orchardophiles1Is that a word? Let’s say it is. are the Fountain Court and Arts Garden leading to the Colonnade Court, and the Christmas Orchard. Fruit trees feature in all these areas – most obviously in the Christmas Orchard, it goes without saying – so of course that’s where my camera was kept busiest. Here are a few images of those areas, along with my impressions of the trees I encountered.
Fountain Court, Arts Garden, Colonnade Court
Touring the gardens anti-clockwise from the house, the first fruit trees you meet are a pair of Malus (crab apples) located in the Fountain Court, either side of the long path up to the Colonnade Court. One of them seems to be in more robust health that the other, but I’m sure they both would have looked absolutely lovely a couple of months back, with their blossom on display.
At the end of the Arts Garden nearest the house, a pair of espaliered apples flank the path.
The trees were a little unruly when I saw them and had rather lost their shape, but it was nothing that couldn’t be recovered with a careful hour or two of pruning, maybe followed by a season or two of judicious re-growth. A quick bit of fruit-thinning would be helpful as well, but that’s just one of those jobs that tends to slip down a busy gardener’s to-do list when everything else is crying out for attention at this hugely hectic time of year.
At the top end of the path up to the Colonnade court, a group of nicely-shaped, mature fruit trees rise up above the herbaceous planting beneath. Apples and maybe a plum or two as well, if I remember it right.
Beyond those mature trees is a row of relatively newly-planted apples; still very youmg but coming along nicely.
The Christmas Orchard
Surely the Laskett’s main attraction for fruit tree fans, the Christmas Orchard is so-called because the first trees were planted there in December 1974. The Laskett Gardens website says it “was the preserve of Julia who assembled a small collection of historic apples with an emphasis on those grown in the Marches”. More trees were added at later dates, and now there are maybe two dozen mature specimens growing there, many of them possessing the beautiful gnarling of long-established trees crusted with moss and lichen and bristling with fruiting spurs.
I didn’t check the variety of every tree, but I noted the likes of ‘Sheep’s Nose’, ‘Ellison’s Orange’ and ‘Pitmaston Pineapple’, and I was able to spot and immediately identify this old friend from my Ordsall Hall days, the ‘Catshead’:
One of the best places to view the Christmas Orchard has to be from the viewing platform in the Belvedere:
And finally, who can resist the charm of a trained apple arch?
I really wasn’t sure what to expect from The Laskett Gardens. When I’ve seen it on the television the segments in question have always focused on the more architectural elements that the garden is perhaps better known for: Sir Roy’s topiary, and the assorted chunks of statuary, some of which came from the old Palace of Westminster, that are tucked away in odd corners for visitors to discover. So I was pleasantly surprised and extremely pleased to find quite so many fruit trees to appreciate and enjoy.
The orchard spaces at the Laskett would certainly make it a rather lovely place to visit in spring or autumn, for the blossom displays and then the harvest. Although of course the garden as a whole is a fascinating, hugely detailed space that’s packed with planting and something new to see around just about every corner, throughout the year.
The Laskett Gardens is definitely a destination worth heading for the next time you’re down Herefordshire way2By way of an added bonus of The Laskett is that it’s not all that far from Peterstow, home of Ross Cider‘s tap and cider shop at The Yew Tree Inn., as long as you’ head’re there on a Tuesday or a Thursday, the Laskett’s regular public open days.
See the Laskett Gardens website for full details.
- 1Is that a word? Let’s say it is.
- 2By way of an added bonus of The Laskett is that it’s not all that far from Peterstow, home of Ross Cider‘s tap and cider shop at The Yew Tree Inn.