Visiting Swansea Orchard Project & the Grafting Season begins

This weekend, I made a visit to the Swansea Orchard Project to tutor in summer grafting and pruning as part of an accredited Certificate in Community Orcharding at a beautiful community orchard within the old walled garden of Margam Country Park.

Set in 1,000 acres of Parkland, it is a place steeped in history, wildlife and natural beauty. The weekend was a real success with a great bunch of enthusiastic and dedicated people. Those local to Margam who missed out this time might be interested to attend their Summer Pruning Course this coming weekend.

For those looking to learn Winter Pruning and Grafting, I’ll be running various sessions here in Shropshire next February and March. Our Courses page as just been updated to show what these sessions will cover, with dates to be confirmed in the coming months. Get in touch to be put on my list… but before those chilly months are upon us once more, it’s time to savour the sunshine!

At the nursery, this month will see the beginning of our grafting season, with the hot, dry weather creating perfect conditions for this all-important phase of the summer. In March, we planted just over 3,000 rootstocks, suitable for grafting with apples, pears, quince, medlar, damsons, plums and cherries. Different rootstocks offer differing qualities for a prospective customer, dependent on their soil type and requirements like available space, and style of garden or orchard. We have planted several types of dwarfing rootstocks, meaning those with smaller gardens, or less available space can still have the enjoyment of growing fruit trees. These rootstocks form the basis of our 2024 stock, and will soon be carefully grafted with buds from our selected heritage varieties. We will keep a close eye on these, monitoring to check they have successfully taken and are viable, meaning they will go on to produce flowers and fruit.

We have some new varieties for grafting this year, with a number of them originating from Cheshire. Whilst we might typically associate the Southern counties with the quintessential English orchard, Cheshire has a rich history of fruit tree growing. Once the main supplier of apples to Liverpool and Manchester, Cheshire’s orchards, like many up and down the country, fell dramatically in number following WW2, and again during the 1970’s as domestic fruit markets stalled, and old sites were grubbed up to make way for housing and intensive arable farming.

The Cheshire varieties we’ll be growing this year each have their own intriguing story – for example, the Hazel Pear: reputedly sent in vast quantities to Manchester during the First World War to produce khaki dye for uniforms; or Arthur W Barnes, developed in 1902 by the head gardener to the Duke of Westminster. Other rare cultivars include Millicent Barnes, Minshull Crab, Eccleston Pippin, Wareham Russet and Lord Derby.

It’s heartening to think we can make a difference to reversing the loss of our national plant diversity through stewarding these now rare cultivars. Particularly enigmatic is the Betley Bee Bush, whose origins from the borderlands of Shropshire and Cheshire make its provenance a contested issue! Not too much is known about this variety, so it will be an intriguing process to see its qualities emerge.

Grafted nursery trees, mulched with coppiced willow for soil moisture retention

Our website is now fully up to date with varieties available for this winter. Proving particularly popular so far is the Bardsey apple, originating from off the tip of the Lleyn Peninsular, North Wales. This windswept isle has long been significant for pilgrims, Pagan and later Christian. It was outside the remains of a 13th century abbey, where once stood an orchard tended by monks, that the variety was rediscovered in 1999 by fruit tree expert Ian Sturrock. This uncommon variety is perhaps all that remains of the monastic orchard, and it’s hardy, disease resistant tendencies coupled with a delicately sweet flavour make Bardsey a great option for the more challenging climates of Wales and the West coast.

Amid the trees, the site is humming with insects taking advantage of a bounty of forage. It’s been a joy to see poppies appearing in the tractor alley spaces, their arrival completely unplanned, as nature finds footholds in any available niche. At the margins of the cordoned apple orchard, rye grasses once planted as part of our green manure applications have also taken root, their scythe shaped ears shifting in the breeze.

Rye grass at the head of the cordons adding some visual interest
Wild poppies, self-seeded amid the grasses and white clover

We are gearing up for our Summer Pop-Up at the nursery at the end of this week. This Saturday 23rd July from 11am – 3pm we’ll open our gates to the public, and a barn-full of local foodies and crafters.

This summer event is featured as part of the Shropshire Love Nature Festival, a county-wide programme of events celebrating a love of nature, whilst exploring the environmental challenges we’re facing, and opportunities to learn and connect, gain new skills, and take action to help protect our environment.  Stallholders will include our on-site growers: Bronygarth Orchard Garden with seasonal veg, and homemade cream teas, Bloomin’ El offering cut flower bouquets, The British Chamomile Company’s selection of teas, and the British Bee Company with raw, wildflower honey from the hives here at the nursery.

Accompanying them will be OsNosh, Oswestry’s Community Kitchen, providing a locally sourced hot lunch option from 12 noon (don’t hang about, these guys sold out last time), plus our friends at Babbinswood will be bringing organic, calf-at-foot dairy produce from their farm outside Whittington. Their decadent whipped cream is being featured with the scones on Bronygarth Orchard Garden’s stall, so you can try before you buy! We’ll also welcome Oswestry’s Yellow Bicycle Cake Company, and Shrewsbury duo Pueblo Artisan, bringing the flavours of South America with their Argentinian inspired street food.

We’re celebrating the best of traditional craft that is locally and sustainably produced, with stalls featuring woodcraft, willow work and textiles from three Wales-based crafters. There’ll also be some live acoustic music from local musicians (bring an instrument and feel free to join in) and lawn games for the kids.

I’ll have soft fruit bushes for sale including raspberries, and black and red currants… it should be a proper taste of summer!