Isle of Wight Apple People and Places

John and Christine Harrison

 

There are very many old apple trees at Northcourt in Shorwell, wonderful, old, knobby, sculptural, twisted espaliers that are now resting some of their branches on the ground.  These predate the Harrison family's ownership of Northcourt.

Even the more recent apples were planted over forty or fifty years ago by Eric and Lionel Harrison when the family first came to Northcourt and began making and restoring the gardens.  Each member of the family (who shared the house) made their own orchard in their area of the garden.  Eric's orchard is nearer the road on the far side of the tennis lawn, still with very productive Bramleys among others, Lionel's is next to the row of espaliers that go up the hill and there are still more apple trees in the walled garden.  All these trees are now John and Christine's responsibility.

In spite of some neglect many of the trees are still very productive.  Unfortunately John and Christine have no record of the names and apart from the more common varieties some of the others are a mystery at present.  Christine does know what sort of apples are produced by each tree and their season, which lasts from late July/August when the end espalier with the family name of 'Nibbler' produces its smallish green apples and the Worcester Pearmain starts producing fruit, to December when one of the trees in the walled garden still has apples hanging on the tree.

 Newton Wonder in the Walled Garden

One of the espalier apples at the end of the centre path in the walled garden has very large, green fruit that could possibly rival the Howgate Wonder in size.  This is Warners King, a very old cooking apple previously known as King Apple and originating in Kent.  There are always fresh apples to be stored, cooked and frozen right round to the rhubarb season and when the rhubarb is over the apples begin again.

 

 Worcester Pearmain and Warner 's King in the walled garden at Northcourt

Storage is a problem and although not ideal a large freezer is an indispensable tool, (a large family and Bed and Breakfast guests also account for a lot of the apples).  There is an old, purpose built but unused apple store on the hill above one of the espalier rows and near one of the 'new' orchards, this is a double storied brick building with stairs going up to a room with slatted shelves for fruit storage.  A real, nostalgic glimpse of fruit productivity in the victorian kitchen garden over one hundred years ago.  This would need considerable restoration to be used again and Christine wonders how rats and mice were controlled; also on a practical note whether a store so far from the house would be used.

There are other notable fruit trees at Northcourt including a pear espalier which has regular crops of large hard pink pears which cook slowly in the bottom oven of the Aga overnight and a wonderful old pear, over forty feet in height and covered in ivy which is still productive.  There is a very old mulberry which has sprawled and spread, layering itself into the ground as it went and a very large walnut tree which John grew from a walnut as a child (unfortunately this seems to be falling victim to Honey Fungus).  There are numerous plums, pears and fig trees some of which seem to be intent on taking over the path in the walled garden.

 

Northcourt is open for the National Gardens Scheme and for other events.