Discover the apple orchard at Croft Castle

Apples in the walled garden at Croft Castle in Herefordshire

Senior Gardener, Jonathan Kellett, shares the history of our walled garden apple trees and some interesting facts about the Old Herefordshire varieties we look after.

It's believed that the humble apple we know and love on these shores originated from the Tien Shen Mountains on the Kazakhstan/China border. Over time the fruit was carried all the way to Europe along the Silk Road to the Balkans and beyond.

Over the centuries, keen enthusiasts eventually created around 2300 cultivars in the British Isles alone. Old orchards are real cultural landmarks and are living reservoirs of local distinctiveness. They offer a taste of times gone by, extraordinary flavours and culinary revelations.

Take a wander through the apple trees
A wooden label hanging from an apple tree in the orchard at Croft Castle in Herefordshire
Take a wander through the apple trees

Although old orchards are relatively common in rural Herefordshire, nationally we have lost around two thirds of our orchards since the 1950s.

The majority of apple trees that we have at Croft were planted (we believe) in the 1920s – judging by some of our archive photos. We have a collection of 60 mature specimens of around 30 different cultivars.

Kings acre pippin apples
Three kings acre pippin apples at Croft Castle in Herefordshire
Kings acre pippin apples

Old Herefordshire varieties at Croft include – Adam’s Pearmain, Brown snout, Doctor Hare, Downton Pippin, Gennet Moyle, King’s Acre Bountiful and Herefordshire Beefing. Beefing comes from the French term 'Beau fin' - slices of apple baked in bread ovens which were popular street food in Victorian times.

The walled garden in the 1920s
The walled garden at Croft Castle in the 1920s
The walled garden in the 1920s

In a field of about 2 acres near the farm at Croft we have a collection of very old apple trees, twisted with age but still productive. Some lie on their sides like wrecked ships and the smallish green apples with a red flush have an odd, somewhat ancient flavour of well matured cider with a peppery after taste. It conjures up images of wassailing parties of years gone by with pots and pans being played like drums along with hunting horns and the low hum of a concertina all to wake the spirits and to cast a spell for a good harvest.

 We have always called the fruits in there ‘cow apples’ and just thought they were a well- known old cider variety. However we had our plant specialist from the Trust come out to check the provenance of some of our well known older varieties and to take samples for DNA testing. One of the samples was a cow apple and to our amazement it turned out that there was no DNA match for it on record so to all intents and purposes it is unique to Croft .We hope to propagate it to keep a viable stock and then hopefully give it a name – the mind reels with possibilities!

Nutmeg pippin; our gardener's favourite
Four nutmeg pippin apples at Croft Castle in Herefordshire
Nutmeg pippin; our gardener's favourite

Probably my favourite apple at Croft – the one I quality control the most - is the small but perfectly formed Nutmeg Pippin, firm fleshed and juicy with a spicy after taste and an almost popping candy like effervescence.