Last week we had the pleasure of planting a new Orchard at Sissinghurst Castle. Located adjacent to the vegetable garden, this small selection of 60 trees will enhance the area further, and allow visitors to experience what much of the landscape would have looked like until the 1950s. The four varieties: ‘Worcester’, ‘Kidds Orange Red’, ‘Sunset’ and ‘James Grieve’, have been chosen specifically for their old Kent heritage, and will be allowed to grow much larger than modern trees. Grafted to an M106 rootstock, they will reach and be pruned to about 3m in height, and a wild flower meadow seed mix will be sown below.
The trees were planted by the veg garden team, and a group of volunteers, on a freezing cold April day. The Orchard is in memory of Chris Penn (1985-2011), who was an active National Trust volunteer and a keen environmentalist. His parents joined us for the planting, and are pleased that it will be a lasting tribute.
Much work went into preparing the site for planting, but the hardest part was undertaken by a small group of saddle back pigs. They spent about two months munching through the remains of a potato crop, eating as many weeds as possible and, of course, adding fertiliser as they went. This left a quagmire rather like an artillery practice range, so we let the ground dry out, and cultivated it with a spading machine. This machine is designed to recreate the action of digging by hand and producing a fine soil tilth, but without the back strain. The result was an area of level, manured, cultivated ground ready to plant trees, and then sow grass seed.
Planting the trees was simple, but first the area had to be measured and marked out, so that the rows were all perfect and in-line. A stake was knocked in for each tree position, and the bare-rooted fruit trees planted to the south side. As the worst winds come from the north, this will give the best support without the tree rubbing the stake. Each tree was then given a supporting tie, and a spiral rabbit guard to protect against the inevitable marauding bunnies. Giving a tree the very best start in life is all important, and directly affects how it will perform. The first two or three years are crucial, and these trees will be mulched with cardboard and compost to keep the weeds down, and then irrigated if required. Once away it will be all about pruning them well, and harvesting the crops (for some reason Cider springs to mind!)
Great care was taken to select trees that were strong, healthy, and would be resistant to problems. We sourced our material from Frank Matthews Nurseries, who have a proven track record for quality, and offered excellent advice on selection. We now excitedly await the first signs of life, which, with this warm wet weather, should be very soon. Visit their website at www.frankpmathews.com
The Orchard will be opened up to walk through later in the year, once the grass begins to establish. It forms part of our evolving, ever growing, fruit and vegetable garden at Sissinghurst, which we manage organically. Please come to see us and watch things develop.