‘Look closely at nature. Every species is a masterpiece, exquisitely adapted to the particular environment in which it has survived.’ – E.O Wilson
It is not known how old Haddon’s orchard is or how long it has been in its present location. But certainly the trees are old with some even taking sanctuary on their side, roots upturned, but still providing, easily accessible delicious bounty.
Orchards are areas of trees and shrubs planted for food, usually fruit. The original domesticated apple tree originated in Central Asia, where its wild ancestor Malus siversii is still found today. The apple tree that we know, Malus x domesitca was brought to the Uk by the Romans, and it is now the most diverse fruit, with more than 2500 different varieties of it, with names ranging from Bramley’s seedling to Broad-Eyed Pippin.
Apples are used for eating, cooking and cider production. All of which the apples at Haddon would have been and continue to be used for. In ancient times, the apple and other associated fruit such as the pear and quince, were a critical part of the Medieval diet and were used in all sorts of delicious ways, including the still much loved apple fritters!
Haddon’s orchard is a ‘traditional’ orchard with larger, widely spaced trees with sward that has been allowed to develop naturally, only occasionally been grazed by a few lazy sheep. The orchard is organic and managed in a traditional way. Ie. unlike modern intensive orchards it is void of pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers and there has been no impactful alteration of its environment, favouring the natural balance of predator and prey, making it a place of important biodiversity.
Orchards are a composite habitat. Within a relatively small space, they contain elements of woodland, pasture and meadow grassland. These individual habitats create a wildlife haven more than the sum of its parts which can support a broad range of insects, birds and mammals.
Another important, distinguishing feature of a traditional widely spaced planted orchard is that it is a continuously open canopy. This means that unlike a woodland, where the undergrowth activity occurs in the spring before the canopy closes, light can reach the ground, bark, and low branches, right up to the tips of the trees all year round. This creates a unique microclimate and supports an alternative range of flora and fauna.
Another wonderful and important aspect of orchards is the blossom. Not only does this ensure a bountiful harvest ahead but it also provides essential, early nectar and pollen to wild pollinators, now in worrying decline, in the spring and early summer.
Orchards used to be a staple feature of the English landscape until the 1950s when mass produced fruit became commercially available. Haddon treasures its old, familiar, and comforting orchard and appreciating its role in the biodiversity of the land are planting more fruit trees throughout the estate and Medieval Park.