Orchard and meadow at Plas yn Rhiw

View of Mynydd Rhiw apple trees and meadow at Plas yn Rhiw, Gwynedd

In a quiet corner of Plas yn Rhiw, there’s been a bit of a transformation. One green field is now home to a collection of native fruit trees and a flourshing meadow, full of colour, the smell of blossom and the buzz of bees.

The root of the project

Back in 2010 the gardener at Plas yn Rhiw, set about researching and compiling a list of Welsh fruit trees, drawing up a plan for the new development.

The following year with some help from the local secondary school we planted over 140 trees, including apples, plums, pears and cherry.

At the time this was the largest known collection of Welsh fruit trees in the world. Since the conversion from a sheep grazed field into an orchard, the site has seen quite dramatic changes in a relatively short space of time.

Making a meadow

The orchard is also managed like a hay-meadow, being cut by a Ryetec flail mower in late August or early September, after the seeds have had time to set and disperse. The cuttings are also removed so that the nutrient levels in the soil decrease over time, which is what a lot of wildflowers prefer. 

Ryetec cutting the grass in late summer
Tractor and ryetec mower cutting the grass at the orchard in Plas yn Rhiw, Gwynedd
Ryetec cutting the grass in late summer

A key ingredient

Yellow rattle is often dubbed the ‘meadow maker’ - it’s partially parasitic and weakens the grasses making it easier for wildflowers to thrive. 

Ysgol Crud y Werin, a local primary school, helped us collect yellow rattle seeds from one of our tenant’s fields, for spreading in clusters throughout the orchard. The yellow rattle has taken exceptionally well and has spread throughout the site and when the seeds are ripe the distinctive rattling sound can be heard as you walk between the apple trees.

Tracking progress

A staggering 97% of meadows have declined since WWII. So it’s important we seize opportunities to re-introduce and restore this wildlife-rich habitat.

Each July we complete a survey of the grassland to see how it’s developing and whether the management methods are working. The surveys show that the rate of wild flower and herbaceous species has increased considerably in relation to the grasses. 

This has attracted the attention of a local beekeeper, providing the perfect location for him to set up some of his hives and is an interesting addition to the site.  The bees have been great in helping with the pollination rates, resulting in good crops from relatively young apple trees.

An outdoor classroom

The variety of topics that the orchard offers has provided a great location for activities with schools and groups; from the process of pollination and mini-beast hunts, to food chains and wild art.

Pupil's from Ysgol Crud y Werin get a bee's eye view of Plas yn Rhiw by playing pollination game
Pupils play pollination game at Plas yn Rhiw orchard and meadow, Gwynedd
Pupil's from Ysgol Crud y Werin get a bee's eye view of Plas yn Rhiw by playing pollination game

A visit to this hidden gem is a delight, whether to look at the impressive blossom in spring, the wildflowers and butterflies in summer or to try an apple during the autumn.