There was a time when folk used to ‘take the car out for a Sunday afternoon drive’. This could entail following the ‘Blossom Trail’ around the Vale of Evesham at this time of year. In places this trail is still marked but, over the years , the traditional orchards began to be neglected as they were deemed unprofitable when produce could be brought in from abroad cheaply. Never mind that all sorts of methods are employed to ensure that out-of season or distantly sourced fruits appear on the shelves as ‘fresh’!!

On Wednesday, 18th April, Mickleton Gardening Club heard about cheering new trends from Martin Hayes of the Gloucestershire Orchard Trust (GOT). Once an itinerant harvester of fruit and veg. and now a renowned expert on our remaining traditional orchards; he makes a full-time living from orchard maintenance in a practical and consultative capacity. There is such a demand for his skills and knowledge that he can work for 7 days a week and doesn’t see himself retiring.

The Trust is a Charity and it has well over 100 members who have managed to raise funds to purchase some old orchards on the River Severn at Longney near Gloucester. These are open to the public and are not only a wonderful sight in Spring but they are also a source of collections of fruit and grafts. There are 7 interconnected orchards with Perry pears (which can live from 150 to 300 years!), Cider apples,Marjory Seedlings (plums),and new varieties from all over Britain as well as special Gloucestershire varieties.

One of the sections of the orchard is for folk to come along and take cuttings from new branches to use as Grafts. (The ‘Mother Orchard’). So these trees don’t produce blossom and are funny shapes.

In the past a mother would take grafts of her own fruit trees and grow new trees in order to give to her daughters when they married….so that they could start their own orchards. (What a novel idea for us to copy!!) This is one of the reasons why there are so many different varieties of fruit trees. Nowadays we can use DNA testing to establish if a tree is a new variety. Martin explained that some counties claimed varieties as special to their area and gave them local names. DNA testing has revealed that they are sometimes not as special as was thought!! They are identical to others around the country.

The Gloucestershire Orchard Trust does not spray in its orchards and operates manual weeding; including the grazing of animals. Lottery funding helps pay for training new experts in orchard maintenance and their expertise is being sought all over the country. To help keep the momentum going, and to spread knowledge, the experts work with school children and raise money by selling apple juice called 'Trust Juice’. (This gets sold out as it is seasonally produced ). Martin donated his Speaker’s fee to the Trust….Its a cheering thought that perhaps the ‘Blossom Trail’ may be revived and, with weather like we have had this Spring, will be a sight to cheer our jaded eyes!

Our Club meeting on May 16th will have Jack Willgoss talking about ‘Wildgoose Nursery and their viola collection. How to grow violas and their top 20 varieties’He and his wife, Laura, were RHS Gold medalists at Malvern in 2014 and 15 and achieved a Silver gilt medal at Chelsea in 2015 and16. The meeting is in the King George’s Hall in Mickleton at 7pm for a 7.30pm start and we very much welcome visitors! The competition will be ‘Three violas in a container’ (Single or mixed) We are also revving-up for our Open Gardens evening, on June 20, for members and their guests More feasts for the eyes!