Isle of Wight Apple People and Places

Brian and Graham Deacon

Brian and Graham are cousins and run Deacon’s Nursery which is still essentially a family business employing wives, sons and daughters as well as other employees.  The core staff are Brian and Graham plus five others, but this does not include Graham’s wife who writes all the labels, a key role when it comes to despatching orders and his daughter who works from home.

Graham and Brian’s grandfather originally came from Elston Court, Wingham, near Canterbury in Kent where they had a small fruit farm growing Worcesters and Coxes for local sale.  The family then moved to Hartley Witney where they had a mixed Nursery business, including cut flowers, fruit of all kinds, shrubs and trees.
They decided to move the business south, where frost was less likely and had the opportunity to buy the first six and a half acres of what is now Deacon’s Nursery in Godshill.  The site was a barley field and the first job was to plough it and plant, this was in 1976, the hottest summer in the 20th century and the same year that Les Smith started planting at Afton Park.  Graham recalls that although they had brought some shrubs with them to sell this was quite a frightening moment as they had very little to provide them with an income that year.  Later they had an opportunity to buy the land the other side of the river and then two other pieces of land, making the present 17 acres in total. 
They had a contact and friend who was a representative for Geest’s Bulbs and travelled all over the West Country taking orders for them to supply shrubs.  They supplied a lot of nurseries, including Hillier’s at Romsey, at that time but making the deliveries was expensive and time consuming.  The nursery then began to specialise in fruit.
The amount and variety of fruit sold is staggering, offering possibly the largest selection available from any one nursery in the British Isles.  There are over 300 varieties of apples alone, including dessert and culinary, crabs and cider apples, Ballerina trees and a collection of Scottish apples. Then there are pears, medlars, quinces, plums, gages and damsons, cherries, peaches and nectarines, not to mention nuts of all kinds.
There are all the usual varieties of soft fruit and cranberries and blueberries, grapes in variety, hops, figs, kiwi fruit, rhubarb and asparagus.
Apple trees can be bought on the usual rootstocks (there is a useful chart in the catalogue) and also come as Family trees and Jenny trees where several varieties are grafted onto one tree. Where there is only room for one tree in a garden this has obvious advantages in providing pollination.  The Jenny trees come as a pole of stacked up varieties which can be trained in a variety of ways, they also come in ‘traffic light’ colours e.g. Greensleeves (green), Evening Gold (amber) and Gloster 69 (red). 
Deacon’s operate mainly as a mail order nursery although local customers can collect in person. In any one year there will be at least 1000 orders stacked up at the start of the despatch season which lasts from the beginning of October to mid April and then the orders continue to come in as the season progresses.  From Christmas until April is also the season for grafting and this is a really pressurised time of year.  There are 25,000 trees to prune and train at some point whenever other work permits.  After April comes the propagation season for soft fruit, finishing the pruning and training of fans and espaliers and endless, endless weeding, keeping the ground clear around the fruit, and then despatch season starts again. In addition there are visitors with questions and queries about everything from identification to cultivation to pruning. 
Brian and Graham and family have a very wide range of expertise and knowledge about all kinds of fruit (not just apples) and the catalogue is a fount of all kinds of information in a compact form.  A side line is grafting specially treasured or unusual varieties on an individual basis, these are grafted and sent back not kept at the Nursery as occasionally owners can forget to collect!

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