Orchard Visit: Airfield Estate, Dundrum, Dublin

The second garden that we visited during our recent stay in Bray, Co. Wicklow, was the Airfield Estate in Dundrum, a few miles south of Dublin city centre.

The estate1Which was named Airfield as long ago as 1836, rather than being a modern development on the site of a former aviation air-field, as I’d originally assumed. was formerly owned by the delightfully eccentric-sounding sisters Letitia and Naomi Overend, who left the estate in trust to the Irish people in 1974. Which is why you can now visit this rather wonderful 38 acre working farm, food growing space and education centre, rather than touring yet another commuter housing estate. And that means that, as I did, you can spend a happy few hours wandering around the Airfield Estate’s orchards and appreciate its many fruit trees.

Straight through the entrance gate my eye was caught by what I first thought must be an espalier fence of what turned out, on closer inspection, to be crab apples, running along the southern edge of the house garden:

From the other side of the wall it became clear that this isn’t only an espalier, it’s a raised espalier, with the trees growing on tall trunks behind the boundary hedge before the training arrangement begins:

A very lovely effect indeed and, as you can see, the trees have been very nicely trained to their support structure:

At the lower end of the garden, just behind the crab apple espalier, there are a pair of very mature fruit trees. The first is a medlar that’s clearly seen a few winters, but is still fruiting well:

Its opposite number is this very impressive apple – variety unknown, or at least unlabelled – which could be even older than the medlar:

The trunk of the apple is superbly craggy and hollow in places:

In one of the hollows a charming, presumably self-sown Digitalis has established itself and the gardeners have clearly decided to let it be:

Continuing clockwise around the garden, I came across a row of veteran pear trees growing against the east-facing wall.

Again, they were unlabelled and so could be of unknown variety, but they seemed to be producing well:

This particular tree has clearly seen some hard times and has lost half of its canopy, although the remaining section of its trunk surely makes for fantastic insect habitat:

Here’s the view back down the garden from in front of the house, towards the medlar, crab apple espalier and veteran apple:

Over on the other side of the central lawns and borders there’s another row of veteran apples, perhaps suggesting that this whole area could once have been bounded by standard fruit trees?

These very mature trees have some wonderfully interesting hollows within their limbs, amongst the well-healed scars of earlier branch removals:

Then, on the west-facing wall, I found more pear trees; some veterans, some more recently planted:

This striking rambling rose – ‘Blue Magenta’ perhaps? – made for a pleasant combination of the fruitful and the floriferous:

Looking across the garden I caught glimpses of what looked like another group of fruit trees beyond:

Here they are, another mini-orchard of mature and veteran standard apple trees, with a few more recently planted trees amongst them:

One of them was a ‘pearmain’ variety of some sort, unless I’m much mistaken:

And here’s a more recently-established pear tree:

Walking past the standard trees and rounding a corner towards the main growing space, a right-angled section of building wall has been painted a brilliant white, and trained trees established along both walls. This fig is clearly doing well:

Various trees are being trained in various shapes: an oblique palmette, a love-heart and a candelabra:

Around another corner this vine is also being trained against a wall:

The food growing area at Airfield is extensive, and includes this much more modern orchard of assorted trees on dwarfing rootstocks, which I’d estimate to be around eight to ten years old? What a great view for the residents of those apartments to enjoy.

Here the varieties are all known and the trees all labelled with fruit-shaped wooden signs, which is a rather nice touch:

In the boundary hedge I spotted this very tree. It was unlabelled and I can’t see an obvious graft union, so I wonder if it’s a chance seedling that has been allowed to establish? Or perhaps a crab apple that has been planted as a hedging plant?

Alongside the orchard there’s also a nuttery of fine-looking hazels:

And on the opposite side of the orchard, a vineyard of low-trained grapes. The second row from the right is the variety ‘Boskoop Glory’ (a.k.a. ‘Schuyler’) which the RHS website suggests is a dual purpose dessert and wine grape, and given the nature of the site, I expect the rest are similarly edible straight from the vine.

As well, as a good selection of soft fruit bushes, there was also this rather fine avenue of damson trees to enjoy:

Of course, once I was back at base I hit the historical map websites to see if I could find out how the owners of the Airfield Estate might have organised its orchards in the past. The c1840 OS map shows the house with a plot to the immediate south that could well have been an orchard:

It’s unlikely, given the usual life-span of a fruit tree, that the mature apples remaining in the garden borders today are the remnants of the original trees, but there’s a good chance that they could have been planted to replace some of the originals, or to enhance the existing orchard.

The 1888 – 1915 OS Map doesn’t include as much detail, making it difficult to tell whether there were any obvious orchard spaces on the estate, but I think we have to assume that there would have been fruit trees around the garden, and they could well be the ones that still stand to this day.

As you can see from the 50+ photos above – and I could easily have snapped a few dozen more – the Airfield Estate is a fantastic place for the fruit enthusiast to visit, with a great mix of veteran, mature and more recently established fruit trees, bushes and vines. Very highly recommended indeed!

Footnotes

  • 1
    Which was named Airfield as long ago as 1836, rather than being a modern development on the site of a former aviation air-field, as I’d originally assumed.

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