Each season has its beauty, and this fellow has been giving thought to which plant in the autumn garden appeals most.
The trouble is that there are several, so a Desert Island Discs-style approach is necessary. I’ll confine it to three – apples, chrysanthemums and leaves. They have always epitomised autumn for me.
Apples top the list because I just love growing them. The problem is that there are more than 2,000 varieties in existence, and there’s not enough room in this garden to accommodate them all, even if they were all grafted onto the most dwarfing M27 rootstock.
I’ve settled for 10 varieties – three culinary and seven dessert. Of those, the firm favourites are Discovery, James Grieve and Bramley’s Seedling.
The first two are self-fertile and early to ripen, good points this far north.
They are also very flavoursome. The only downside is that they do not last long when stored, but we do grow late-ripening cultivars for continuity.
Bramley’s Seedling keeps throughout winter and is brilliant for culinary use. The only problem is its triploid variety status, which means it needs pollen from two different apple cultivars to secure a crop.
This is where an ornamental crab apple planted nearby helps, for they have a long flowering period.
Apple trees in the neighbouring garden also contribute if pollinating insects are active.
The other intriguing aspect of growing apples is that they have history.
Sow a pip, and it germinates. Grow it on in a pot, then transfer to the garden.
It can take up to 10 years before the first sign of fruit. Even then, it might not be good enough to eat.
It is amazing how many commercially-successful apples were created by amateur gardeners.
Bramley’s Seedling has been arguably the biggest success story. It was raised from a pip in the garden of Mary Anne Brailsford, of Nottinghamshire, circa 1813, but not introduced until after 1857, when it was spotted by nurseryman Henry Merryweather, who recognised its potential. It finally gained Royal Horticultural Society recognition in 1883.
The original tree succumbed to a storm in the early 1900s, but branches emerged from the stump, and they still fruit to this day.
That is why buying a Bramley’s is good value for money. But where did the name come from? Surely it was Mary Anne Brailsford’s apple!
Unfortunately, when Merryweather first saw it, she’d moved, and the cottage and garden now belonged to a local butcher and you can guess what his name was.
Such facts make growing these plants all the more interesting.
Discovery apples were raised by George Dummer, who worked on an Essex fruit farm. He germinated pips resulting from cross-pollinating Worcester Pearmain with Beauty of Bath, and in 1949 he planted the strongest one in his garden.
The first fruits were bright red with a juicy, strawberry flavour and pink-tinged flesh. He called the tree Thurston August after the place where he lived.
Nurseryman Jack Matthews renamed and marketed it in 1962, and by the 1980s, it was the main early commercial variety nationwide.
But it is remarkable that the original plant ever reached maturity.
Dummer only had one arm and needed his wife’s help to plant the young tree, but she fell and broke her ankle. It remained bare-rooted for several weeks, covered only by a sack, during sustained frost.