Celebrate autumn

Two of the Cotswolds’ popular gardens offer the chance to celebrate autumn this weekend with their last big events of the 2016 season.

Colesbourne Park and Painswick Rococo Garden are both better known for their snowdrop displays but each has plenty to offer at this time of year as well.

At Colesbourne there’s a rare chance to see the arboretum and enjoy the autumn colour spectacle on Friday and Saturday, while from Friday to Sunday, the Rococo Garden will be showing off its home-grown produce and explaining how to get the most out of the harvest.

celebrate autumn
Squash are among the homegrown crops at Rococo

Among the trees

Colesbourne’s arboretum was started by Victorian plant-hunter Henry John Elwes and has been added to by his great-grandson Sir Henry Elwes.

It now numbers around 300 trees, with six registered as the largest of their variety in the UK and some 120 years old.

“This is very much a plantsman’s collection of trees from around the world,” said Sir Henry. “The arboretum was started by and is still managed by the Elwes family.”

celebrate autumn
Colesbourne’s unusual blue lake

The rest of the 10-acre garden will also be open with woodland walks and views across the lake, which is believed to get its unusual blue colour from lime.

Learn about apples

At the Rococo Garden, apples and pumpkins are just some of the produce on show as the historic garden encourages visitors to celebrate autumn.

On National Apple Day this Friday, there is a children’s Apple Activity Day with the chance to learn how to cook with apples, bug-hunting and apple games.

The apple theme continues on Saturday and Sunday with talks by Martin Hayes on orchards and how to prune trees. The Gloucestershire Orchard Trust is supplying information about traditional local varieties and there will be demonstrations of rural skills, apple-pressing and wreath-making.

celebrate autumn
Learn more about apples at Painswick Rococo Garden

And if you’ve got a mystery apple tree in your garden, you can take in the fruit for identification by Martin on Sunday.

“It’s an opportunity to find out what to do with autumn produce and the last chance to see the garden before we close for the year,” says garden director Dominic Hamilton.

Painswick Rococo Garden’s Apple Activity Day for children is on Friday October 21 from 10.15-3pm and costs £7.50. Book online at The Rococo Garden or call 01452 813204.

The Autumn Festival is on Saturday and Sunday, October 22 and 23, from 10.30am to 3pm. The 2016 season ends on October 31. For more details, visit The Rococo Garden

Colesbourne Park is open on Friday and Saturday, October 21 and 22, from 12.45pm with optional guided tours led by Sir Henry and head gardener Arthur Cole. Admission is £5, to include a cup of tea. For more information, see Colesbourne Park

• Enjoyed this? Do leave me a comment and share this post via Twitter, Facebook or email. 

Get a taste for history

There’s nothing quite like the taste of a freshly picked apple, one that hasn’t been ferried miles and then sat on a supermarket shelf. Growing your own also means the chance to savour different varieties rather than just the commonplace Granny Smith or Braeburn.

In Gloucestershire alone there are 106 different apples and, thanks to work by the Gloucestershire Orchard Trust, many of these are now available to gardeners. 

One grower who has been promoting these ‘heritage’ varieties is Rob Watkins, who specialises in old varieties of apple, along with perry pears and plums. 

heritage fruit
Rob Watkins grows a range of heritage varieties

He launched Lodge Farm Trees 15 years ago when he gave up milking at his Rockhampton farm. Every year he raises around 1,000 trees with about 40 different apples and 20 perry pears at any one time. 

“At some point I’ve grown all of the apple varieties,” says Rob, who is a Trust committee member. 

Among the old apple varieties are ‘Margaret’, an early cropping, sweet, red dessert apple, ‘Severn Bank’, a dual purpose eater and cooker, and ‘Hens Turds’, a cider apple from Rodley. 

‘Rose of Ciren’ is another Gloucestershire variety and there is the delightfully named ‘Jackets and Waistcoats’, also known as ‘Jackets and Petticoats’, which comes from Ashleworth. 

“It’s a nice apple with a zingy taste,” says Rob, who also grows Christmas trees after collaborating for some years with neighbouring Mount Pleasant Trees. 

Some apples, such as the dual purpose ‘Arlingham Schoolboys’, have been saved from near extinction as the original trees have long gone and the variety lives on only through grafted trees grown from them. Some of these new generation trees have now been planted back in the village. 

Perry pears, which are found across the Three Counties, include the ‘Christmas Pear’, ‘Yellow Huffcap’ and ‘Merry Legs’, though whether the name has anything to do with the effect of the perry is unclear. 

heritage fruit
The ‘Worcester Black’ pear appears on the city’s coat of arms

The trees are grown on rootstocks that Rob buys in as two-year trees and plants out in January; these are used to determine the size and vigour of the mature tree. 

Budding starts in July using that year’s growth, some taken from his trees – he has planted an orchard of old varieties – the rest from trees across the county, including the Trust’s ‘mother orchard’. 

All the leaves are trimmed off the cutting, leaving a small ‘handle’ on the bottom one and a 45 degree cut is made behind a bud. This is then inserted into a similar slot in the rootstock behind a bud and the whole thing is bound together with special tape. Three weeks later the two should be growing as one tree. 

heritage fruit
A piece of the trimmed leaf is left

The following spring, Rob cuts the rootstock off to just above the graft, leaving the heritage variety as the leader. 

“In the first year the rootstock will shoot out of the bottom and I have to trim it off several times during the growing season.” 

Trees are sold bare-rooted from mid-November to March and a mini-digger is brought in to lift them to ensure a good root ball on each tree. They are then heeled into a bed of composted bark ready for sale. 

And Rob’s favourite? It’s the well-known ‘Ashmead’s Kernel’, which originates from Gloucester and dates back to 1700.

For more information, visit www.lodgefarmtrees.co.uk

Gloucestershire Orchard Trust: www.gloucestershireorchardtrust.org.uk

Planting tips

When it comes to planting, the process is simple. Choose a good, sunny site, that doesn’t get waterlogged and don’t replant where there’s been a fruit tree before; Christmas trees are used as a rotation crop at the farm. 

Dig a hole big enough to take the root ball. Rob doesn’t put compost or manure in as “It will act like a sump and the roots don’t like it.” Instead, he prefers to mulch well after planting. 

A stake may be necessary, depending on the size of the tree and the area around the tree should be kept weed-free. He also recommends fitting a guard if you have rabbits.