You have to be patient to be a gardener. And to be optimistic and prepared for things not going exactly to plan. Nothing proves this more than my apple trees. They were among the first things I planted in the garden and they had a rough start to life. Rabbits gnawed through the bark of the stems within months of planting. This was due to out not being here, having only just started work on the house, and the field surrounding us being ploughed, making our patch of green an oasis in a sea of mud. Drought the first spring did not help and then this year, their third season, a combination of frost at flowering time, reducing fruit set, the attention of rooks and September storm all contrived to reduce the crop. But I am not in a hurry and this year the trees made good growth, I finally staked them properly, replaced a few losses and I am optimistic.
I have planted a selection of apples, old and new, to try to provide a long season of ripe fruit. Curiously, ‘Discovery’ turned up its toes the first season and I am still debating whether to replace it with the same or something different. ‘Cavan Sugarcane’ (sorry but I ate the one apple without taking a photo) was a nice apple, sweet and tasty. But ‘George Cave’ is very curious. The apples on my tree are still not ripe and nothing like what I remember when I ate it as a young adult. It is supposed to be an early apple so I think I have something wrongly named. I picked ‘Kidd’s Orange Red’ before it was fully ripe, mainly because the rooks were attacking the bright red fruit, and it was quite good, but obviously not as tasty as it should have been.
But ‘Winter Gem’ (photo top*) has, at this early stage, won the award for making me happy. It has had a small crop of nine mature apples, which is nothing to write home about but as good as anything else this year. And they are beautiful. They are large and, unlike virtually every other apple, there is not a hint of scab.
‘Winter Gem’ is a late apple, usually picked in late October and can be stored until the New Year. I picked a couple of fruits now because we have already had frost and storms. It was bred in Kent by Hugh Ermen in 1975 and introduced in 1993 so is a pretty recent variety. It is a cross between ‘Grimes Golden’ and ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’. ‘Grimes Golden’ is an American cider apple, a curious choice as a parent of a new eating apple, but it is a parent of ‘Golden Delicious’. ‘Golden Delicious’ is universally hated by most apple lovers but it does crop heavily and it has some good characteristics for an apple, though the flavour is sweet and one-dimensional. But when combined with other apples that feature taste it has proved a good parent and the ‘Golden Delicious’ x ‘Cox’ cross has been repeated many times and provided many good apples.
‘Winter Gem’ shows just what good parents can produce. It is supposed to be a healthy tree and mine seems to be. It is vigorous but it is reported to only be a moderate cropper, which may be why it is not grown commercially. But the apples are so attractive that I am sure it must have some future in that regard. The flavour was not really fully developed and the texture was slightly chewy, again down to early eating I think. But it was the perfect balance of sweetness and acidity. While it did not have the rich flavour of ‘Cox’ it was the best apple I have picked this year and I am confident that the flavour will develop as the fruits mature properly. I have picked a few more to see if they ripen in the kitchen. It seems to be an apple in the typical modern style with beautiful skin, rather hard, crunchy texture and a perfect blend of acidity and sweetness. It reminded me a bit of Pink Lady (‘Cripp’s Pink’ – another child of ‘Golden Delicious’) which may or may not be a huge accolade.
It is far too early to assess any of my apples yet but ‘Winter Gem’ has made a good impression so far.
- the lack of leaves on the shoots is down to wind!