Last summer, proceeds from the honesty box stall enabled us to send samples from seven heritage Waterfurlong apple trees for DNA testing. We asked our visiting apple guru, Denis Smith, to select the specimens that most intrigued or baffled him. After months of waiting, the results are finally in! We have one disappointment, two confirmations, three fascinating rarities and one continuing mystery!
So, in reverse order of excitement:
No 7 BLENHEIM ORANGE
What we thought was the lovely and unusual French Belle de Pontoise has disappointingly turned out to be good old Blenheim Orange. Now, Blenheim Orange is a delightful apple and this is clearly an unusual strain of it, but it's not the rarity we had hoped for.
No 6 MÈRE DE MÉNAGE
Denis was spot on in his identification of this 17th century French or Dutch cooking apple.
No 5 LODDINGTON
We're still not sure how a variety rarely found outside its native Kent arrived in Waterfurlong, but the DNA analysis has confirmed Denis's identification.
No 4 LORD GROSVENOR
This tree is in its final years and Denis's best guess was Lord Suffield or Manx Codlin (both of which have been found on other Waterfurlong plots). DNA testing shows it is in fact Lord Grosvenor, a similar and equally rare codlin variety. This is the only known Lord Grosvenor tree in the Stamford area.
No 3 ONTARIO
Here we have puzzle upon puzzle. One of our gardens used to have an unusual (unidentified) dessert apple grafted onto an equally unusual and ancient rootstock. When the main tree died the rootstock started shooting, producing large, delicious cooking apples. Denis's best guess was the French Calville Blanc d'Hiver, but something didn't feel quite right to him. Testing has revealed an even stranger story, for the rootstock turns out to be Ontario - the first named Canadian variety. How and why would an obscure Canadian apple, barely known in England and listed by no local nursery, have ended up as an experimental rootstock in Waterfurlong?
Ontario was bred in about 1833 by Charles Arnold, a Bedfordshire nurseryman who had just emigrated to the small town of Paris in Ontario Province. Like Waterfurlong's most famous gardener, Thomas Laxton, Arnold was admired by Charles Darwin for his propagation of peas and strawberries, and regularly exchanged promising plants with leading horticulturalists back across the Atlantic. Did Arnold send scions of Ontario to Laxton or another of Stamford's gentleman gardeners? We will probably never know, but it is a distinct possibility.
No 2 BRENCHLEY PIPPIN
The jury was always out on this curious apple that tastes similar to Blenheim Orange, but on a tree half its size. The closest Denis had seen to it was the 16th century Nonpareil, but we awaited the results with interest and were not disappointed! This apple turns out to be the extremely rare Brenchley Pippin, once grown in a tiny village near Tunbridge Wells and never widely cultivated, owing to its weakness and susceptibility to wind damage. Denis is hoping to propagate new stock from our Waterfurlong tree, helping to save Brenchley Pippin from extinction.
No 1 NELSON'S CODLIN??
What we believe to be the true Nelson's Codlin
In one of our plots stands the most gorgeous codlin tree. Every year it is smothered with showy blossom, followed by huge, perfect, oblong fruits that make the most delicious sauce, juice and crisps. Ever since he saw it, this tree has intrigued Denis. After considerable research he felt sure it was the great rarity, Nelson's Codlin, named not after the admiral but after 18th century Wesleyan preacher, John Nelson.
Fruit from the tree has travelled with Denis to many an apple fair and excited a great deal of interest. One day last year Denis visited the National Fruit Collection in Brogdale and found 'their' Nelson's Codlin. It did not look like ours, and ours looked a lot closer to the only known illustration and description.
We were therefore unsurprised when the DNA test results came back as 'unknown'. Denis believes we have the true Nelson's Codlin and the challenge is now to convince Brogdale of that! Watch this space (but with patience ... these things seem to take a very long time ...)!
FULL LIST OF OUR WATERFURLONG HERITAGE APPLES
Below are the 55 heritage varieties we have so far found across those Waterfurlong gardens that have been checked - there are still plots to which Denis has been unable to gain access. This long and varied list is the reason
Waterfurlong remains the largest traditional orchard site in this part of the country, and every year brings new and fascinating discoveries.
Varieties marked * have been DNA tested. You can find a photograph and profile of each apple on the website.
Beauty of Bath
Belle de Boskoop
Cox's Orange Pippin
Lane's Prince Albert
(Lord Burghley - now fallen)
Mère de Ménage
Nelson's Codlin (the original?)
Red Lady Sudeley
Tydeman's Early Worcester
Copyright © Karen Meadows 2020