“Voices of Spring”

12 February 2019

We have been pruning apple trees this week. Not just any old apple trees but the old, gnarled, overgrown, Victorian trees planted in the Walled Garden and at other places on the Estate.

Mature trunks! 

It feels wrong to cut good healthy wood from living trees, but these neglected fruit trees have been allowed to grow unhindered for over 50 years and as a result several upright branches, which should have been removed when they were young twigs, have grown into mature trunks each the size of a small tree. Instead of a delicate fan shape of neatly trimmed fruiting wood on a single trunk the multi-branched trees are top heavy thickets, threatening to overbalance the once expertly trained espalier trees. 


Apple trees can be grown in many shapes and sizes and growing them against a wall or fence is a space-saving way to produce fruit. By coaxing them to grow in controlled styles the branches receive more sunlight and so the fully ripened wood produces more flower buds. The fruit matures sooner and because the size of the tree is limited, it is easier to harvest. 

Two of the most popular shapes are ‘cordon’style and ‘espalier’.


A Cordon tree is a single, dwarf tree, often planted at an angle of 45 degrees, strictly pruned so that all the fruit is grown on very short side stems or ‘spurs’. They do not take up much space, but they can be extremely productive and are well suited to a small garden or restricted area.


Espalier trained fruit trees are pruned to make them grow flat against a wall. They can be shaped to grow like a fan or a ladder or even a lattice and when expertly grown they can be a stunning addition to a garden. Training branches into ‘fans’and ‘ladders’slows and controls the flow of sap through them, and that leads to slower, tougher growth. The trees require little pruning once established, are attractive in blossom and fruit and create architectural patterns in winter. 

An example of an espalier apple tree. Image from:

Heritage Orchard

We will continue to prune and restore the shape of our veteran trees over the next few years and during the coming summer we shall be preparing the soil along the wall for a new Heritage Orchard which we intend to plant in the Autumn. In addition to choosing the varieties of fruit, the really exciting bit will be deciding what shape of trees we want to try and grow.

Love is in the Air 

It is almost St. Valentine’s day and they say that this is when birds begin to mate. Sure enough, where before we would see a solitary Robin in his territory, now we are seeing pairs of birds. They don’t exactly behave like ‘lovers’ yet as one or other seems to chase away the partner bird into a nearby bush but they quickly return and are grateful for a handful of dried mealworms or other fresh morsel from the disturbed soil. If you look around, you’ll notice that crows have definitely ‘paired up’and on sunny afternoons there are snatches of birdsong issuing from other male birds keen to find a mate. 

Jay Cry 

I recently heard the cries of a Jay or two coming from the woodland and have to admit that I genuinely thought a deer was in distress or a rabbit was being murdered before realising that it was in fact a Jay. Jays have a distinctive and unnerving cry and although beautiful to look at, if you are lucky enough to see one, they are worse than Magpies for their bullying behaviour.

Spring is Coming 

The neighbouring farmer was ploughing one of his fields yesterday and there was a magnificent cartwheel of seagulls spinning overhead around the tractor as they vied with each other to get the best position for swooping down on the upturned worms and grubs. And if that isn’t enough of a sign that Spring is well under way, have you noticed that it is light now past five o clock.


Spring is an unstoppable force but it is also one that creeps up on us gradually and almost imperceptibly until you realise that the afternoon sun is warm now; there a lots of snowdrops flowering where last week there were only one or two; the weeds have started to grow; those dainty lilac crocuses are flowering; there are young leaves on that bush in the corner and the pussy-willow buds have opened. 

Crocuses. Image from:

Butterflies and Bees

Any day now we shall see the first white blossom on the blackthorn trees and if it is really warm and sunny keep a watch out for Brimstone butterflies and Bumble bees as they will break out of their hibernation very soon. The bright, sulphur-yellow butterfly is unmistakeable in the hedgerow and the noise of the Bumble bee is a striking sound after the silence of Winter.

Weather Warning 

They say that the three days of February 21st, 23rd and 24th rule the weather for March, April and May so keep a weather eye open and who knows, we might just get a tip off about what to expect, trouble is, it will be nearly June before we know if the saying is right or not!

For information about pruning apple trees this is a really good, informative article. Click here for article.

If you want to have a go at your own ‘espalier’ tree click here.

Blog written by Margaret from the Gardening Team