As Scottish Natural Heritage tells us: “Over the last 50 years there has been a steady decline in the number of fruit trees in Scotland. It is now recognised that the loss of orchards is also a loss for biodiversity as well as the loss of unusual and local varieties of fruit.” The Silver Bough project aims to help reverse that trend.
This is our latest initiative to explore the roots of Scottish heritage apples – including finding a home for seven collections of heritage apples. We see the Silver Bough as complementary to the Seed Kist, but representing the perennials instead of the annuals: everything that can be propagated by collecting seed can get stored in the Seed Kist; every plant that needs to be nurtured and looked after where it grows should be celebrated under the Silver Bough.
The Silver Bough refers to a silver apple branch, laden with blossom or fruit, that was the passport to Tir nan Òg, the land of eternal youth, of Celtic mythology. Placed in the contemporary commodified context of “Tesco Everyday Golden Delicious; 5 for £1; origin: South Africa”, this reference seems out of place – but mythologies are usually not forgotten but instead reinvented.
People are now reversing the trend in the latter half of last century of grubbing up commercial orchards by enthusiastically planting school and community orchards up and down the land.
We have chosen seven collections of seven trees from around the country that tell interesting or lesser known parts of the diverse history of the fruit.
Each collection currently has a ‘headline variety’:
1. HIGHLANDS: Coul Blush. The most northerly variety, raised at Coul House, 1827
2. MORAY: Beauty of Moray. First recorded in 1883.
3. ANGUS: Chivers Delight. A Cambridgeshire apple raised in about 1920, with a Montrose connection, as the Chivers
company had a factory there – an interesting piece of socio-economic history. Plus some other old Angus trees,
Tower of Glamis, Hood’s Supreme and Arbroath Oslin.
4. CARSE OF GOWRIE: Bloody Ploughman. Legend has it that the seedling that grew out of the bones of the
ploughman shot scrumping apples at Megginch Castle, Perthshire. Plus some other Carse of Gowrie favourites,
Weight, Lass O Gowrie, Lady of the Wemyss, and Port Allen Russet.
5. LOTHIAN: Hawthornden. A very old variety from Bonnyrig, plus some other old Lothian varieties, such as East
Lothian Pippin, Cutler Grieve and Tam Jeffrey.
6. BORDERS: White Melrose. From Melrose Abbey – and there is an ancient version still growing there.
7. GALLOWAY: Galloway Pippin. A very ancient variety, probably from Wigtown
We are in good company – across the country orchard revival is well in hand.
There’s the wonderful Clyde Valley Orchard project, the Central Core Orchards Network, the Scottish Orchards network, the Orchards Revival research project, the Fruitful Schools project, Scottish Heritage Apple Trees, and the Highland Apple Map – amongst loads of other initiatives. One outcome of the Silver Bough we’d like to see happening is these projects being unified and co-ordinated through a national mapping effort to ensure better communication and understanding of issues of biodiversity, cultural heritage and commercial development to ensure access to sustainable fruit.