Gardening with Dave Allan: Apple trees – A feast of beauty to gladden hearts and nourish the bees


Apple trees are a must for any garden, whatever its size. They bring beauty and interest throughout the year, provide tasty, nutritious food, and are an invaluable resource for wildlife, for birds, for pollinators like bees and hoverflies, for lichens and for many other organisms so small we can’t even see them.

Scotland has been the home of apples for many centuries, dating to their introduction by monks in the 12th century. The monks were probably the first to enjoy the breathtaking beauty of spring blossom, possibly the deep pink display offered by the Arbroath Oslin.

This brightened Arbroath Abbey’s garden shortly after the Scottish barons gathered there to sign the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320. This was Europe’s first major statement of every man’s freedom and his right to choose the sovereign. This continues today as Queen Elizabeth was Queen of Scots, not Scotland.

Although we often under-rate the apple’s spell-binding blossom, this oversight does not apply in Switzerland’s “Carse o’ Gowrie”. Every year at Lake Constance, apple blossom trails are held and as part of the celebration, the nearby Charterhouse Abbey visitor attraction participates. As I mentioned here a few years ago, the management sets up a clear-roofed bubble tent to let guests enjoy the blossom from the comfort of their beds.

From dawn to dusk, the blossom is a compelling magnet for all nearby pollinators and we and the Charterhouse visitors would later be treated to the sight of swelling fruit, with colours perhaps ranging from Oslin’s deep yellow to my Worcester’s intense red.

So the appeal of apple trees continues from summer onwards and with warmer autumns now, these gorgeous fruits stay longer on a tree, providing a fine display even after leaf drop.

Inevitably this fruit also attracts birds and though they and other creatures are welcome to fallen fruit, systematic pecking by my local jays is less welcome. This is a long-standing issue as monastery workers were required to keep their orchards crow-free.

Even in winter the shape and outline of apple trees is attractive, whether free-standing or trained against a wall. And pruning trees to preferred shapes and designs adds interest for gardeners.

We prune in August for a better harvest the following year, but winter is the major time for pruning. With apples, I find nothing’s more rewarding than sculpting them to the design I want.

And don’t worry if you don’t have space to plant apple trees. Many dwarfing varieties fit snugly in large pots.

Plant of the week

Hylotelephium (formerly Sedum) spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’ provides colour and nectar in the late summer and autumn. A backdrop of blue-green succulent leaves is a perfect foil for the large, flat topped flower heads that open dusky pink and then deepen to take on coppery tones. Needs well drained soil.


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