A taste of heritage apples

With Apple Day approaching, I’ve been out to Snowshill Manor to find out about their heritage apples.

It’s the names as much as the flavour and sense of history that appeals to me about heritage apples. ‘Hoary Morning’, ‘Cat’s Head’, ‘Cow Apple’, somehow, they all seem so much more interesting than a mere ‘Granny Smith’.

Yet, few, if any, ever find their way to supermarket shelves and often the only chance you’ll have to sample them is at a specialist event.

heritage apples
Who could resist an apple called ‘Hoary Morning’

Snowshill Manor has been growing heritage apples for many years; collector Charles Wade is known to have had an orchard at the Cotswold manor and it was replanted with more than 50 different apples between 1994 and 2001.

heritage apples
Snowshill Manor is celebrating harvest this month

“There aren’t any lists so apples that were interesting, unusual, old and rare were chosen,” explains Vicky Cody, who runs the garden at the National Trust property.

heritage apples
Snowshill grows more than 50 varieties of apple

The result is an eclectic mix of eaters and cookers with some from the Gloucestershire area and others from further afield.

heritage apples
The ‘Cow Apple’ was found on a Gloucestershire farm

Among the local varieties are the wonderfully named ‘Cow Apple’, so called because the seedling was found growing in a cow pat on a Gloucestershire farm. It’s a general purpose apple that is particularly good for mincemeat as it keeps moist when in the jar.

heritage apples
Ashmead’s Kernel has a hint of peardrops

Then there’s ‘Severn Bank’ a sharp-flavoured Gloucester apple that was first recorded in 1884; ‘Gloucester Royal’, a sweet eating variety from 1930; and ‘Ashmead’s Kernel’, another local fruit dating from around 1700, with a peardrop flavour.

“If you like a russet, it’s got that sharp flavour. It’s delicious,” says Vicky.

heritage apples
‘Pitmaston Pineapple’ is another with an unusual flavour

Another with an unusual flavour is ‘Pitmaston Pineapple’, which as the name suggests has a hint of pineapple. ‘Egremont Russet’, which was first recorded in 1872, has a rich, nutty flavour, while ‘Devonshire Quarrendon’ has a slight taste of strawberry.

heritage apples
‘Devonshire Quarrendon’ is said to taste of strawberry

One of the oldest varieties grown at Snowshill is ‘Court Pendu Platt, which is believed to be Roman in origin and first recorded in about 1613. Meanwhile, ‘Flower of Kent’ is said to be the apple that gave Newton the idea of gravity.

A more recent variety is ‘Discovery’, an August fruiting apple and one that I grow. It has superb flavour and intense white flesh but doesn’t keep and needs eating fresh-picked.

heritage apples
‘Cat’s Head’ is an old cooking variety

And you shouldn’t go by looks alone. ‘Jenny Lind’ doesn’t seem very appealing but has a fabulous flavour.

“I was very surprised when I tried it. She’s a beauty.”

When it comes to growing, Vicky says heritage apples are no more difficult than modern varieties. She recommends planting in October or November or waiting until February or March.

heritage apples
Flowers and veg make a harvest display

Dig a good-sized hole and put in some well-rotted manure or good compost. Firm the tree in well and add a short stake, set at an angle, allowing the top of the tree to move slightly in the wind, which will encourage better roots.

“As it grows, keep checking the tree tie to make sure it’s not rubbing.”

heritage apples
The cow byre is the ideal setting for the apple display

You’re unlikely to get a crop until the tree is a few years old but then you can enjoy your own taste of history.

During October, Snowshill Manor displays fruit from its heritage apples in the old cow byre and there is fruit for sale.

There are also weekend demonstrations of crafts, including making bee skeps and candle-making.

For more information, visit the website.

Snowshill learns from past

Every gardener knows that when you take on a new plot it’s best to wait before making any drastic changes. Only with time can you fully assess what you’ve inherited, what’s good, what needs replacing and how things can be improved. One year into her new job running the National Trust’s Snowshill Manor Garden, Vicky Cody is starting to put some of her ideas into action.

She’s no stranger to working in a garden with history, having previously been at Hidcote Manor Garden, and is busy researching notes from previous gardeners, old photographs and documents to make the best choices about new plants and designs.

Replanting is planned in Elder Grove

One discovery was that the area known as Well Court was used by Charles Wade, who created the Arts and Crafts garden in the 1920s, to showcase a collection of lupins.

“I came across some old black-and-white photographs that showed lots of lupins but we don’t have any now,” says Vicky.

That has now been rectified and masses of dark purple lupins are going to be added to the existing planting.

Snowshill has long views over countryside

“I want to weave them through like tapestry,” explains Vicky, who manages the garden with her colleague James Evans and a team of volunteers. “I’m looking forward to seeing it.”

In the Armillary Court, she is hoping to achieve a more unified feel: one side has tall asters and hemerocallis while the other is more low-growing with nepeta and Lathyrus vernus.

“There are some nice plants in here but no continuity.”


Again, Vicky is planning to research what was there in the past before planning a new planting regime.

Some areas have already undergone changes, most notably in the kitchen garden. Once an allotment-style single planting area, it has now been turned into a series of raised beds, cleverly designed to cope with the sloping site while a new second entrance means there is now a better route around the space for visitors.

Borders around the outside will be filled with different climbing beans, rhubarb for structure, and flowers including dark dahlias and sunflowers; cut flower posies are going to be sold alongside surplus fruit and veg.

Snowshill’s sloping site is a series of terraced gardens

As well as being easier to manage, Vicky is hoping that the raised beds will make what is already one of the most popular parts of the garden more appealing.

“It’s pretty much the only place in the garden where people stop and talk,” she says. “Vegetables can be attractive and productive.”

Other alterations include introducing wild flowers, such as red campion and scabious, to Piper’s Path that runs to the restaurant, and introducing more to the orchard, where the number of mown paths has also been increased.

In the long borders that run next to the orchard a giant cardoon, Cephalaria gigantea and achillea are among the plants that have been divided and replanted to give more cohesion and drumstick alliums and cerise Byzantine gladioli have been introduced.

There’s an informality to the planting at Snowshill

“When it is all grown up, it’s pretty wild. It’s not a contrived border. With the orchard and the hills in the background, it’s quite natural looking.”

Some of her plans are more long term. Elder Grove, long replanted with viburnums, is again in need of rejuvenating and Vicky is hoping to return to elders underplanted with hellebores and ferns. Wolf’s Cove, a miniature fishing village, awaits the rebuilding of its walls before restoration work can continue on the tiny buildings. Pointing to thick box hedges at the back of the village, Vicky comments that they would have originally been bonsai-style and will need replacing.

And it’s this knowledge of the past that underpins the changes at Snowshill Manor Garden.

“The history is always in the back of your mind. It’s not your garden. You’re just looking after it for a very small period.”

For details of Snowshill Manor Gardens opening times and admission prices visit Snowshill Manor

Snowshill needs volunteers

Snowshill Manor is holding an information day this weekend for would-be volunteers.

Staff and existing volunteers at the National Trust property will be on hand to explain what’s involved in jobs that range from gardening and storytelling to caring for the collection built up by Charles Wade, who left the house to the Trust.

Snowshill Manor
Volunteer Robin Neill with a piece from the model village restoration project © Hayley Gaisford-Gotto

Volunteering is a great way to make friends and learn something new,” said marketing officer Gosia Rumsey.  “There are plenty of opportunities available here, and we can work with people to find a role that suits individual interests and skills.”

Booking is not needed and people can drop in at any time between 10am and 3pm on Saturday January 30. In severe weather the event may be postponed and you are advised to check before travelling at http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/snowshill-manor-and-garden

Please, Santa, can I have . . .

Unlike some of my nearest and dearest, gardening friends and family are easy when it comes to buying presents. Newcomers to the joys of growing can be given starter kits of forks, trowels and fool-proof seeds while there are unusual plants and top quality tools for seasoned campaigners. And everyone loves a book.

But what of the professionals for whom gardening is not a hobby but a way of life? I’ve been talking to the head gardeners at some of the Cotswolds’ best known plots and asking them to share their letters to Santa.

At Barnsley House, home of the late Rosemary Verey, head gardener Richard Gatenby is hoping for new tools, but not just any old fork and spade. He has his eye on some traditionally made items from Holland.

“Dutch tools do it for me,” he explains. “I’d love the DeWit planting spade. It has a beautiful curve to the shaft and not too big a blade. But I’d need boot protectors!”

Richard Gatenby
Richard Gatenby at Barnsley House

Richard, who worked with Mrs Verey on the world famous garden, is also hoping for a Great Dixter Tickling Fork. Designed by another horticultural giant, the late Christopher Lloyd, and made by Sneeboer, it is ideal for working the soil in tightly planted beds.

“I like the sound of it and again it just looks perfect.”

At Batsford Arboretum, head gardener Matthew Hall is in charge of 56 acres of woodland and garden that include the National Collection of Japanese flowering cherries. The wide-ranging arboretum has around 1,300 different trees, shrubs and bamboo, and more than 2,850 labelled specimens.

Matthew Hall
Matthew Hall wants help keeping track of the trees

Unsurprisingly, top of his Christmas list is something to make keeping a track of everything a little easier.

“If someone was to hand me a GPS system to map the arboretum and catalogue the plant collection, I would be very happy!” he says.

The Indian Garden at Sezincote

It’s not trees but vegetables that are on Greg Power’s mind this Christmas with a wish list that encompasses something that’s practical and beautiful.

Greg Power
Greg Power

Greg, who took over as head gardener at Sezincote earlier this year is hoping to see some forcing pots under the tree.

“I’d like some that are a modern design and some old 19th century ones,” he says. “I want them for my sea kale.”

One of the Cotswolds’ newest head gardeners is Vicky Cody, who took over as Gardener in Charge at Snowshill Manor in April. She’s hoping for an old-fashioned scythe to use in Snowshill’s orchard, a quieter alternative to a flail mower and strimmer.

Snowshill Manor
Snowshill Manor

“I also think it’s good to keep old techniques and practices alive,” says Vicky, “and it’s much more in the spirit of Snowshill and would be kinder to the environment to boot.

“If Poldark happened to come along with the scythe – even better!” she adds.

Vicky Cody
Vicky and Cookie, who is looking for a coat

And after a wet autumn, she has also looking for a fleecy, lined, waterproof jacket for her spaniel, Cookie.

Meanwhile, Vicky’s former boss Glyn Jones at Hidcote Manor Garden is after beauty and creature comforts.

Top of his list are some mohair socks, such as those sold by former TV presenter Selina Scott.

Glyn Jones
Glyn is hoping for a ready to flower wisteria

“I already have one pair and they are so toasty,” explains Glyn, who is Garden and Countryside Manager at Hidcote. “Having spent many years with cold feet these are simply fantastic.”

Plants are also welcome, particularly a dark blue wisteria – “Grafted as I don’t want to wait ten-plus years to see its first flower” – and a pink clematis, such as C. x vedrariensis ‘Hidcote’, to climb through it.

“It’s a classic pink and blue combination and would screen a fence in my back garden at home.

“So, something to warm the heart and something to warm the toes!” adds Glyn.

At Colesbourne Park, home of Sir Henry and Lady Elwes, head gardener Chris Horsfall has his eye on a set of grading riddles for sorting seed.

Chris Horsfall
Chris Horsfall selling snowdrops at Colesbourne Park

“It’s loads of fun and pretty important when planting a garden,” he explains, “but seeds vary so much that one riddle simply won’t do.”

A new Silky Fox pruning saw is another request: “They’re one of the best saws, so convenient and sharp. They are as necessary as your secateurs when you’re out and about in the garden.”

Finally, he wants something to combat the cold in this garden famous for its snowdrops: “Above all, I would love a wood-burning stove for the potting shed. It’s a long winter and autumn, and spring can be challenging too. A wood-burner turns a damp shed into salvation. Yes please, Santa!”