I recently attended a seminar in Perth organised by the Historic Gardens of Scotland Society. Lectures were held on a variety of subjects relating to ancient orchards in Scotland, in particular in the Carse of Gowrie. Apples, pears, damsons and plums have been grown in this area for centuries and some of the trees we visited were over 200 years old. There are connections between these old trees and the Torridon kitchen garden; our oldest fruit tree is an old Victoria plum probably over 80 years old. However the tree which particularly catches my imagination is an apple variety called the Bloody Ploughman.
One old orchard site we visited was at Megginch Castle, an resort owned by the Drummond family for a couple of centuries. We were shown round the castle interior and also around the amazing grounds which are being worked up to their past glory. A lot of work had been done in the ancient orchard and some of thespecimen trees: limes, acers and yews are more than 500 years old.
To the bloody ploughman: my friend John Butterworth grows Scottish varieties of apple and pear trees in Ayrshire and supplies many old varieties throughout the country suited to the local areas soils, aspect and climate. He carried out survey some 10 years ago and this is his description of the bloody ploughman
“ raised at Megginch in Carse of Gowrie. 1880. Named after a ploughman who was caught stealing the apples and was shot by a gamekeeper! A ribbed, red apple with a fine taste, better in the east.”
Well, our ten year old tree did very well over here on the west, producing about 6 kg of fruit this year which were safely transported to the kitchen with not a gamekeeper in sight.
We allow guests to scrump the odd Discovery, Spartan, Fiesta, Lord Lambourne or Bramley and one recent guest was delighted to find three different varieties in a bowl in their room.