An overgrown and unkempt area of woodland is set to be transformed into an orchard. Left to its own devices for years, this is the latest development in our plans to plant trees to combat climate change and regenerate areas of Horsenden Hill.
This new orchard, which for now we are calling the apple grove, more on that later, is the woody area on the left as you enter the main gates to Horsenden Farm.
Our small but intrepid herd of two Shetland cows – Ilex and Bramble – did lots of preparatory work for us, munching their way through leaves and branches.
This initiative is a collaboration between the Friends of Horsenden Hill, Horsenden’s cows and pigs and ranger Jon Staples, London Borough of Ealing.
What’s the plan?
First we cleared the site of brambles, and roots and branches the cows left behind, and we prepared for planting.
Our pigs helped dig over the soil before planting, adding their manure. We will spread wildflower seed and Meadow grass for Ilex and Bramble to graze.
The site is flanked by living hedges of hawthorn and wild rose that provide habitat for small birds and many species of insects. The living hedges will be enhanced with apple and mulberry trees
In Autumn 2021 we planted the new trees, attended to hedges and installed stock fencing. We planted 15 bare root apple trees, each of which will grow to between 4m and 7m after ten years. Some of these are heritage varieties, selected for their sweet juice and good cropping.
Many heritage varieties have become rare in recent years as growers have concentrated on a smaller range. There have been orchards at Horsenden for hundreds of years and we want to protect that heritage.
The addition of a stock proof fence will make sure that the farm’s cows can’t just wander there when they feel like it.
This is the first of a mission to restore Horsenden’s lost orchards. The next stage is to create cages for each tree to protect them from grazing animals.
Horsenden’s Orchard Heritage
Historic maps show several orchards located throughout Horsenden. These disappeared over time, just as orchards, specifically heritage orchards, right across the UK have declined in number.
Orchards are a priority habitat for biodiversity, providing food and shelter for a wealth of wildlife including bees, beetles, moths, birds, fungus and lichens. They are in sharp decline – around two thirds have been lost since the 1950s – and many existing old orchards are under threat.
Traditional orchard skills such as pruning and grafting are also being lost.
We want to reverse this loss, replacing orchards and creating new ones, planting large trees with M25 root stock as these are the closest we can get to the original heritage varieties. Plus they have a lifespan of around 100 years, and the quality of the fruit improves over time.
Modern varieties that are developed predominantly for commercial use do not have a long life. They tend to be small, short lived and fast cropping; replaced every few years when their production slows.
We aim to safeguard Horsenden’s long held tradition of growing fruit and helping to keep important skills alive.
A home for wildlife
Orchards provide a rich habitat for wildlife. Beetles and birds live in the branches, rare species like the noble chafer beetle and lesser spotted woodpecker love apple trees. Pollinators are attracted to spring blossom and the fruits provide an important food source for autumn and winter too as birds, hedgehogs and badgers feed on the windfalls.
Orchards and climate change
The devastating effects of climate change compel us to act. Here in the London Borough of Ealing, biodiversity is a top priority, protecting and nurturing our natural environments to ensure they are sustainable and resilient.
We need healthy ecosystems to help us withstand the challenges of climate change. Orchards help us to understand global changes. The flowering dates of apple trees are highly sensitive to environmental conditions. Climate scientists use these dates to monitor seasonal variation.
This orchard along with other tree planting schemes that Horsenden is engaged with, mean we can make a positive impact on the effects of climate change.
What’s in a name?
The apple grove needs a name. Place names are loaded with meaning and this new orchard is no exception. The name Horsenden itself probably goes back to Saxon times, originally “Horsingdon”, the last syllable don meaning hill fortress.
The challenge is to choose a name that will stand the test of time and embraces the history of Horsenden. All orchard sponsors are invited to submit a name and we’ll hold a vote to choose the winner.
Here are the varieties of fruit we planted
King James 1st (Mulberry)
Saint Edmund’s Russet 2-year (1.75m) Bare-root M25
Adams Pearmain 2-year (1.75m) Bare-root
King of the Pippins 2-year (1.75m) Bare-root M25
King’s Acre Pippin 2-year (1.75m) Bare-root M25
Pitmaston Pine Apple 2-year (1.75m) Bare-root M25
Ribston Pippin 2-year (1.75m) Bare-rootm25
William Crump 2-year (1.75m) Bare-root M25
Blenheim Orange 2-year (1.75m) Bare-root M25
Bramley’s Seedling Original 2-year (1.75m) Bare-root M25
Lord Derby 2-year (1.75m) Bare-root M25
Newton Wonder 2-year (1.75m) Bare-root M25
Peasgood’s Nonsuch 2-year (1.75m) Bare-root M25
Scotch Bridget 2-year (1.75m) Bare-root M25
Find our more about these varieties on our supplier’s website: Fruit trees for sale – buy online from the fruit tree specialists (orangepippintrees.co.uk)