Published: 06:00, 17 September 2020
| Updated: 16:27, 20 September 2020
A hot spring and a lack of late frosts have been credited for a bumper, early harvest at orchards across the south east.
Orchards at National Trust properties, including Chartwell near Sevenoaks , Ightham Mote at Borough Green , and Sissinghurst , as well as Bateman's in East Sussex, have produced large quantities of apples, mirroring the picture across the country.
The charity, which cares for more than 200 traditional apple orchards across the country, which are also vital habitats for nature, say the largely warm, settled and lengthy spring and few frosts resulted in a spectacular and prolonged blossom season, which when followed by rain in July and August produced the perfect conditions for the bumper crop.
The harvest is also taking place earlier as, thanks to the warm spring meant pollinators like honeybees, bumblebees and solitary bees were able to get the fruit off to a good start.
The orchard at Chartwell, which was restored by Sir Winston Churchill, a keen gardener, grows mainly cooking apples including Bramley’s Seedling, Allington Pippin, Newton Wonder, and Winston - named after its former owner.
Tim Parker, gardens and countryside manage, said: “We started the year off very, very wet, but then went into a period of early and constant sunshine, which led to incredible blossom displays during lockdown. The blossom, coupled with a long warm spring, really helped our pollinators, and that accounts for this great harvest we’re experiencing. It’s a week or so earlier than usual too, and that’ll be because the trees responded to summer’s excessive heat and lack of water by accelerating their cycle to ripen the fruit more quickly.
“Normally we’d juice our apples but as we can’t do that this year, we’re bagging up the apples and offering them to visitors in our shop, for a small donation. Any proceeds will go towards supporting the gardens here.”
Chartwell’s orchard is maintained by hand, to give wildlife a helping hand and, for much of the year, the grass is managed as a meadow, allowing wildflowers to flourish, giving food and shelter for butterflies, bees and moths, which in turn provide food for birds and bats. The grasses also provide a sanctuary for reptiles and amphibians.
He added: “The other beautiful thing about this orchard is that it’s very close to both the formal elements of the gardens, and the wider, wilder countryside, so it acts as the perfect connecting corridor for wildlife.”
At Sissinghurst, most of the apples are picked for juice, which is produced locally and sold in the shop and restaurant.
At Bateman’s and Ightham Mote, visitors can take a bag home for a donation.
Ben McCarthy, the trust's head of nature conservation and restoration ecology, said: “Conserving a broad variety of fruit trees directly contributes towards global efforts to maintain plant genetic diversity that is so crucial for food and economic security.
“Our traditional orchards provide a rich mosaic of fruit trees, often old and gnarled above a flowery spray of unimproved grassland and typically enclosed by hedges. This creates a fantastic mix of habitats that supports rare plants, lichens and invertebrates thrive as well as keeping our traditional landscapes alive with the sound of wassailing and bird song alike.”
You can book in advance to visit the trust's properties, and, from Friday, September 18, some are allowing non-booked visits. Knole House is also set to open its interior to visitors next week.
Find out more at nationaltrust.org.uk