15. First fruit

I'm still not building but at least I'm planting.

How many fruit trees does it take to make an orchard? Five, I was reliably told by Andy Lapthorn, one of my tutors at the Furniture Craft School, who shares my passion for intensive fruit growing as well as a love of hand-crafted furniture (he is well ahead of me on both fronts). This week I planted seven, so I am pleased to report that despite the ongoing problems getting all those pesky ducks in line prior to commencement of construction, The Orchard is now an orchard, if nothing else.

Arguably tree-planting is not the smartest thing to do just before van loads of groundworkers arrive, followed by timber-framers wielding huge lengths of wood. But the trees are small and at the edge of the rear of the plot, away from the construction site itself. I have boarded over my garden paths to enable the space to be used for storage during the build but I left a few little gaps to pop in my bare rooted trees. If one or two get wrecked over the next few months, I won't mind. I'm just happy that our edible house has started to take root.

The six trees came from R.V. Roger in Yorkshire and are all maiden whips that I can train whichever way I want. They are all grown on dwarfing rootstock because in time I want to cram in as much variety as possible and so don't want any large trees to dominate. 

Three of the whips were planted in the bays of our brick wall at the bottom of the garden, between piles of bricks and slate: a morello cherry in the cool shaded bay; a sweet cherry, Sunburst, in the brighter middle bay; and an apricot, Flavourcot, in the sunniest bay. Along the sunny northern boundary I planted three half standards: a Shropshire damson, Reine Claude de Bavay gage and a Victoria plum. In a shaded spot behind the door to the workers' shed I planted another sour cherry, Reinische Schattenmorelle. My serious efforts to improve the soil of the back garden (see #08) are already paying off: as I dug the holes for the trees, all I encountered was rich, well-drained muck, crawling with happy worms.

Although I trust Andy completely, I thought I should check out his intel on orchards. Sure enough, according to an article entitled 'The Traditional British Orchard: A Precious and Fragile Resource' by Henry Johnson, such an orchard will have at least five fruit trees. However, Henry goes on to say that they should all be big enough for livestock to graze beneath. Hmmm. Do chickens count as livestock?

22nd March 2014


  1. Woohoo! The Orchard is alive! I say that because of course chickens count as livestock....they are alive and (when fed correctly) stocky.

    I seem to recall Andy is some kind of official druid tree 'fellow' or something. The grand Poohbah if you will.

    1. The grand Poohbah indeed! I shall treat him with even greater respect when I am next down the workshop.

  2. How exciting! Any plans for a fig? My mum bought me a baby Violetta (the operatic reference hasn't gone unnoticed but wasn't the reason for my choice) for Xmas which is just forming buds now. Planning on a fan.

    Of course chickens count as livestock. But if that's what you have in mind I'd recommend a circle of sure netting round each tree. My birds' scratching would uproot an oak!

    1. Yes, we do in fact have a fig already, given to us by our lovely neighbours next door in Tree House. It's in a pot just now and I don't want to plant it until I have made a fig pit to contain its roots and keep it fruiting. I recommend one for your courtesan.
      We weren't really planning on chickens - too many foxes. But I'm sure there's a design solution for that problem. I'll think on - do send a photo of your chickens to inspire us.

  3. Hi Will,

    Amazed to see you're back on the self-build grindstone. I was filming with Mike Coe yesterday and he told me about your new project. I hope to see it professionally in due course! But anyway good luck and regards to Ford & the cats.

    1. Hi Paul. Good to hear from you. Glad to hear you're still spinning that fan. Maybe see you at AECB. Will

  4. Yes my fig is in a pot too. Same reason as you. It's only a baby and I'm planning to grow it as a fan on the allotment once I've built a supporting trellis. And that won't happen until next year.

    We have foxes too so the hens are caged and don't seem to have been bothered. Three other people have chickens (also caged) and I've heard no reports of problems.

    My theory is that urban foxes find it too easy to get their chicken Kentucky-fried.

    My chicken pen is 2.4m by 1.2 - a smidge narrower than my new raised bed ("beds" when I've built the other three). So they're part of the rotation. Not free-range but they have plenty of space and seem perfectly content.

    They come out quite often but I still pen them in or they make a beeline for whatever's edible on the next door plot. Which would not help my popularity. One is very partial to gooseberries and blackcurrants.

    Bantams might be good for you boys, with less space to play with.

    They're due to move soon. I'll take some pics then.

  5. Thanks Michael. Well, it's tempting. There is a cool corner down the bottom of the garden, where the shed is now. Though the garden is only 10m long and will be full of fruit, so lots to tempt them if let out. Look forward to pics.