The Story of our Family Apple Tree

there are 35 different varieties growing on this one tree, making it one of the most special plants in my garden

Craft | Food | Garden

There is an apple tree in our orchard that I call the ‘Family Apple Tree’. At first glance it may look fairly ordinary, but if you look closely at its branches, leaves and fruit, you will notice that there are different varieties of apple growing on this single tree – 35 in total – making it one of the most special and unusual plants in my garden.

It began when my gardener Steve started grafting a few different varieties onto the branches of one of our Bramley apple trees five years ago. I didn’t know about it at the time as he has since confessed that it was ‘just a bit of a fun’ and he never thought that it would work as well as it has. The many delicious, heritage varieties it holds today include Greensleeves, Spartan, Ashmead’s Kernel, Red Devil, Scrumptious, Pitmaston Pineapple and many more.

There are a number of different ways to graft a new variety onto an existing tree, but essentially you have to cut back a branch, then attach a little cutting from a young branch of the fruit tree variety that you want to add on. I have left a video on my Instagram page which shows how Steve secures the grafts in place, either by making a split in the bark and tucking it down inside the rind or carefully cutting the ends of two branches so that they match up like a jigsaw. Both are best held in place with a little organic raffia or biodegradable tape, and the ends of the branches should be sealed with a little beeswax to stop the tree losing any moisture. Attaching your grafts during early spring will also help to stop the loss of sap.

It is fascinating to see how the different habits of growth for the various varieties mean that the tree has become increasingly untidy and twisted, giving it a sense of character that I love. Not only is it a novelty to be able to harvest so many varieties of fruit from one plant, but it is also an effective use of garden space, enabling you to grow an interesting mix of your favourite cooking and eating apples in the same place.

Above all, I love how unique our family apple tree is. It is a piece of horticulture that you cannot simply buy or find in a garden centre, instead requiring patience, imagination and experimentation, making it a true labour of love.