Sleuthing for orchards in the Carse of Gowrie

Fruit map

By Kaska Hempel

Since early September I have been out in the field again, getting my teeth into the orchard surveys (and their lovely fruit) around the Carse of Gowrie and Perth. This autumn, Orchard Revival has partnered up with Tay Landscape Partnership, and Carse of Gowrie Group to make sure that the current condition of this historically important fruit growing area is well documented in the National Orchard Inventory for Scotland.

Surveys of the Carse of Gowrie in 2007 and 2010 showed that its previously extensive orchards largely have now disappeared after the local top fruit industry had collapsed in 1960s due to competition from fruit imports. But they also identified several sites where, with a little effort, at least some of this important local orchard heritage could be revived (download the full report here – PDF). We are very keen to see how these sites are doing now and have a look at any new arrivals. We also have our eye on the foothills North of the Carse, as well as Perth itself where records are very thin on the ground. The city must be bursting at the seams with new orchards after 100s of fruit trees were planted across its green spaces for the Perth 800 celebrations in 2010. It is important that we capture all this fruity abundance for posterity!

I wouldn’t want to keep all this exciting work all to myself though – I would be delighted if you could join me as a volunteer! Get in touch via email animateur@scotlandthefruit.org.uk or call me on 0744 623 1073. All survey training will be provided in September and early October.

Do you have five or more fruit trees? Then you are an orchard keeper! Help us by making sure that your own orchard is included in the Inventory – it’s as simple as filling in this online form. You can also tell us about any orchards in your neighbourhood.

This weekend you will also have a wonderful opportunity to explore a couple of the Carse’s most impressive historical orchards with a whole family. Tay Landscape Partnership is putting on a Fruit Festival at Muirhouses orchard on Saturday 30th of September. Orchard Revival will have a stall at the Festival so please come and say hello. And the Megginch Castle orchard opens to visitors on the 1st of October as part of the Patrick Matthew Memorial Weekend, organised by the Carse of Gowrie Sustainability Group.

In the meantime, I will leave you with a couple of snapshots from my recent outings. I hope it whets your appetite for local orchard sleuthing!

Elcho castle – young orchard with important collection of local apple varieties

Elcho castle orchardI chose a real treat for my first survey this autumn – the orchard at the Historic Scotland’s Elcho Castle. Although there is no longer any sign of the extensive orchard visible on maps from mid-1800s, the castle’s 1999 planting of over 90 fruit trees keeps the memory of this heritage well alive. The majority of the apple, plum and pear trees are still there, looking healthy and lush and laden with plenty of fruit. It’s definitely worth a visit – and since the visitor’s centre also provides a guide, it’s also a great way to get to know your local heritage apple varieties.

West Oaks – historical field orchard with stately old pears

West Oaks field orchardWest Oaks orchard was a treat from another time. It is a field orchard full of beautiful old pear and apple trees – in its heyday Carse of Gowrie was full of them. The old pears are still very productive and you can see a number of varieties there which you will never encounter in the shops, including the Willowgate sausage pear, unque to the Carse area. Although the orchard floor is overgrown with weeds, there has been some replanting done recently to try to preserve this wonderful hidden gem. Hopefully it will survive another couple of hundred years! The orchard is located along a walking path between Willowgate activity centre and Perth so you can visit it for yourself.

Branklin Gardens – Perth’s vanishing orchard glory

Branklyn Garden cakesNational Trust for Scotland’s Branklin Garden was, as always, a pleasure to visit with its wonderful alpine plant collection and truly delicious cakes. But not many people know that it also boasts a beautifully preserved veteran pear tree, the only survivor from the time when the site was a part of a productive Orchardbank market garden. This and other gardens at the foot of Kinnoul Hill used to supply Perth with fresh produce during 1800s. A few elderly pear and apple trees, scattered around the private gardens and hospital car parks, are the only remaining evidence of this productive past.

Carse of Gowrie Orchards group starts #ORInventory surveys this autumn

A photo of Gavin under a pear tree

Gavin about to don his bee-keeping suit under an ancient pear tree at Megginch

UPDATE 27 Sep 2017: Please note that as of September 2017 a new local facilitator has been appointed to coordinate surveys in this area. For details please see here.

Crispin was over to Megginch Castle near Errol recently to meet with the Local Facilitation team of Gavin Ramsay and owner Catherine Drummond-Herdman of Carse of Gowrie Orchards (previously known as Carse of Gowrie Group‘s Historic Orchard Forum).  We spent some time reviewing the process and organisation aspects of carrying out the Orchard Inventory in the area. That area stretches right around the Tay from Invergowrie to Perth and then back down to Abernethy and the borders of Newburgh in Fife. The extent of the area was indicated by the Tay Landscape Partnership who we’ve been collaborating with and who are co-funding the local fieldwork.

After our meeting in the castle kitchen, Crispin and Gavin had a walk around the orchard. Gavin to look over some of his hives, and Crispin to see the progress on Catherine’s great restoration project – replanting hundreds of fruit trees.  It really looked fantastic, and the plums tasted good!

Similarly to the Clyde Valley, Carse of Gowrie is one of the historically important areas for traditional orchards in Scotland and it would be wonderful to see it come back to life in due course. You can read more about history of their orchards in Crispin’s paper ‘Ancient Orchards beside the River Tay’ (PDF 900kb).

Historic Orchard Forum will be starting their surveys very soon so if you would like to volunteer, contact Gavin via email at gavinramsay@btinternet.com or register your interest using our online form here.