Clyde Valley Orchards seek to preserve apple-growing tradition in Scotland
Lanarkshire group run hands-on classes and annual Smallholders Festival
Clyde Valley Orchards continue to nurture the fruits of an ancient tradition. John Cooke finds out more
They say in Vietnam that when you eat an apple, you should think of the person who planted the tree. Well, think of (and thank) the Cistercian monks who first took advantage of the benign climate and fertile soils of the Clyde Valley, planting orchards to feed their monastery communities back in the fifth century.
Over the years those roots have grown and evolved through waves of apples, plums, soft fruit and, finally, the tomatoes that are seeing a micro-revival today.
You don’t have to look far to see evidence of those very early trees and the subsequent horticulture. After all, it was some industry: in 1908 there were 307 hectares of orchards. At its peak, the Clyde Valley held a full third of all the orchards in Scotland.
Look up above the A72 at Hazelbank, and you can see a few scattered remnants of some of the 70 orchards that are left in the ten miles between Lanark and Wishaw, covering perhaps 64 hectares.
Maureen Anning and the Clyde Valley Orchard Group are on a mission to help people to value what’s left of the great tradition, with education, events and the preservation of trees often left to run wild. She stresses that this is not just ‘because the trees are old’. It’s about preserving local biodiversity with around 53 varieties identified. Some are absolutely local to the area – for example, apples like the Cambusnethan Pippin whose origins probably date as far back as the monks who started the whole ball rolling.
The 40-strong Orchard Group is helping locals learn to look after their trees and make the most of the harvest. They run hands-on classes in keeping trees healthy, teaching skills such as pruning and grafting. They also organise a Blossom Day in spring and, later in the year, a Fruit Day to enjoy the harvest, both held at Overton Farm. You’ll also find the group at events including the annual Smallholders Festival.