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Book Reviews

We hope the following book reviews will help you to find out more about apples, orchards, and growing your own trees.

  • The Royal Horticultural Society: Pruning and Training

    by Christopher Brickell and David Joyce

    Audience: Gardeners
    Category: Pruning advice

    There are plenty of books about pruning and training fruit trees - but in our opinion this one of the best.

    Although this book covers pruning and training techniques for a wide range of trees and bushes, if you are interested in training and pruning fruit trees then it is worth buying for this section alone.

    In practice, there is no substitute for learning these skills hands-on with an expert, but this book is the next best thing. The diagrams are clear, and the year-by-year tasks of forming a trained apple tree are carefully explained.

    The book covers all the forms of trained apple tree that the gardener is likely to need, including standards, bushes, cordons, fans, espaliers, and central leader forms such as the pyramid and spindlebush - the latter being very useful for the home orchardist.

  • The Apple Book

    by Rosie Sanders

    Audience: Gardeners
    Category: Variety selection

    The original version of this book was published in 1988 and established itself as the definitive reference book for the English apple. It soon became unobtainable except on the second-hand market.

    This new edition is if anything even better than the original. It benefits from a larger format, and the inclusion of about 20 new English apple varieties.

    The key to this new edition, as with the original, remains the very high quality paintings. There are now 144 apples painted and described, making this book one of the best resources for apple identification.

    This is a superb reference work which also showcases the inherent beauty of apples. An essential buy for anyone with an interest in apples.

  • Trees for your Garden

    by Nick Dunn

    Audience: Gardeners
    Category: Variety selection

    Nick Dunn is one of the most foremost authorities on English fruit trees, and his detailed expertise shines through in this new book. The main fruit tree section includes good quality photographs and short descriptions of many varieties of apples, plums, gages, pears, and other orchard fruit trees. A set of simple icons help you see key attributes such as self-fertility and harvesting times at a glance.

    In addition there is a wealth of advice about how to grow fruit trees, including details of rootstocks, tree forms, and pruning. The short illustrated section on diseases and problems is particularly useful if you think there is something wrong on one of your own trees but are not sure what it is.

    Note that this book covers both fruit and ornamental trees - the ornamental section takes up about half of the pages, but includes ornamental Malus species (crab apples) which are likely to be of interest to fruit enthusiasts.

  • The Apple Pruning Manual

    by Worraker and Withnall

    Audience: Commercial growers
    Category: Pruning advice

    This book, published in 2013, provides an insight into the pruning and training techniques adopted in modern commercial orchards. The authors have decades of experience in the pruning and management of commercial apple varieties in south-east England, and are well-placed to explain current best practice.

    The target audience is very much the commercial grower, but there is a lot here to interest the amateur as well. The authors note that whilst new techniques have enabled commercial growers to make remarkable improvements in fruit quality and yield over the last few decades, the gardener or hobby orchardist has been left far behind.

    If you hanker after the romantic atmosphere of a traditional orchard with large old trees spaced widely apart, and trained in an 'open vase' style this book is not for you! But if you want to start your own apple orchard using some of the newer techniques that are now available to improve quality and yield, or even if you just want to get a better understanding of the dwarf apple tree in your garden, this book will be a great partner.

    The book is available directly from the authors: Malcolm Withnall, Woodcut Cottage, Ashford Road, Hollingbourne, Kent ME17 1XH. ISBN 978-0-9531850-1-6. The price including P&P is £12. More details here.

  • The Fruit Expert

    by Dr. D.G. Hessayon

    Audience: Gardeners
    Category: Variety selection

    This is a remarkable book which packs a massive amount of detail into its 125 pages. As the title suggests it covers a wide range of garden fruit, including apples, plums, pears, cherries, and various soft fruit. It is aimed primarily at the gardener looking to grow apple trees or other fruit.

    The layout and content of the section on apples is excellent. There is a photograph and short description of more than 50 apple varieties likely to be of interest to gardeners in the UK or northern Europe. The layout of this mini-directory is very clear, and packs a lot into a tiny space. Fruit size, pollination requirements, picking time, and details of the period of use are listed for each variety.

    Other sections cover basic horticultural practices: planting, watering, pruning, training. There is also information about the different trained forms of apple trees, and the type of rootstock and its effect on the size and growth pattern of the tree.

    If you are interested in growing a few apple trees in your garden, and only want to buy one book, then this is the one to get.

  • Growing Fruit

    by Harry Baker

    Audience: Gardeners
    Category: Variety selection

    This book is part of a series published by the UK Royal Horticultural Society, and the quality of the content is therefore assured. Like 'The Fruit Expert' it covers a range of soft fruit and tree fruit, with a useful section on apples.

    Although it lists a number of apple varieties for the garden, the presentation and level of detail is not really comparable with 'The Fruit Expert', and it is difficult to browse through to find apple varieties of interest. On the other hand, it provides quite a lot more detail on training and pruning techniques. It probably makes a good companion to 'The Fruit Expert', and offers a second opinion on how to get the best out the apple trees in your garden.

  • The Apple Grower

    by Michael Phillips

    Audience: Orchardists
    Category: Orchard design and maintenance

    Michael Phillips has strong organic credentials, and the book is subtitled 'A guide for the organic orchardist'. There is a lot of passionate, hands-on, hard-won advice on growing apples the organic way. Even if you ultimately decide that the purist organic approach is not for you, the experience and insight that springs from every page in this book will help anyone who wants to grow apples on a large-scale.

    For readers outside the USA much of the material about climate, zone hardiness, and prices (in dollars per bushel) is difficult to follow - the book is written entirely from the perspective of the orchard environment of the north-eastern USA.

    Be warned, if you buy this book you may well end up starting your own orchard!

    Note that this book was re-published in 2006 with expanded content.

  • Pruning Fruiting Plants

    by Richard Bird

    Audience: Gardeners
    Category: Pruning advice

    This book covers pruning and training for all kinds of tree fruit and soft fruit. It is only about 100 pages, but 2/3rds of the book is devoted to pruning and training tree fruit, and there is considerable detail on apples, pears and plums. It also covers cherries, peaches, apricots, quinces and various other minor species.

    'Pruning Fruiting Plants' is excellent value for money. It is a large-format size (slightly bigger than A4 page size) and has superb detailed photographs and some very clear drawings. In the case of apples, each tree form is described over two of the large-format pages. As well as the usual standards and bush trees, the book has a good description of how to train and prune apple trees in the spindlebush form, possibly the most useful style for the serious apple enthusiast. (There is also a section on spindlebushes in the plums section).

    The more highly trained forms such as espaliers and fans are also nicely described and illustrated. These forms are perhaps more difficult to train well since their symmetry is part of their appeal, however they are still easy to grow - the main photograph on the cover shows an attractive real-world apple espalier, far from perfect, but highly productive. These forms are ideal if you want to take a chance on a fruit variety that prefers a warmer climate, since they can be grown against a wall or fence, and benefit from the warmer micro-climate. Whilst the yields are lower than conventional trees, the excellent light penetration offered by these forms should give you the best possible fruit quality.

    The large format and plentiful photographs may give the impression that this is a "coffee table" book, but rest assured it is full of useful detail and very easy to refer to. It makes a good companion to the RHS Pruning and Training book (see below) - this one has slightly less detail but the detailed photographs and larger diagrams make it easier to use.

  • The Backyard Orchardist: Complete Guide to Growing Fruit Trees in the Home Garden

    by Stella Otto

    Audience: Anyone planning a home orchard
    Category: Orchard design and maintenance

    The Backyard Orchardist sets out to describe all aspects of establishing and running a small orchard, from choosing a site to planting, harvesting, and storing the fruit. Whilst it does not cover any area in detail, it does provide a good overview of all aspects of small orchard establishment. For example the section on insect and disease control covers chemical, organic, integrated pest management and compares the strengths and weaknesses of each in a balanced way - without necessarily coming to a conclusion on which way is best.

    Readers outside North America should be aware that 'The Backyard Orchardist' assumes the reader is familiar with North American climate zones, fruit varieties, and pests and diseases.

    The obvious comparison is with Michael Phillips 'The Apple Grower', which also relates the author's personal experience of starting an orchard in North America. Stella Otto does not have the crusading zeal of Michael Phillips, and after reading it you probably won't feel quite the same compulsion to go out, find a field, and start planting your own orchard. However the Backyard Orchardist is perhaps the more accessible book, the sections are more clearly designated, and the overall impression is that all the angles are covered in a solid but perhaps less exciting way.

    The biggest weakness of this book is the poor quality of the diagrams, which are all black and white and not particularly well drawn. In fairness, the book is not expensive and whilst the diagrams are not particularly attractive, they are certainly clear and useable.

    Overall this is a useful book, and good value. Its strength is that it covers all the topics you will need to be aware of if you are planning to start your own orchard. However it probably does not cover any of the individual topics in enough detail, so it is best seen as an introductory overview, on which you can then base further detailed research.

  • The New Book of Apples

    by Joan Morgan and Alison Richards

    Audience: Anyone interested in the history of apples and apple varieties
    Category: Variety selection

    The Book of Apples is without doubt the most comprehensive single resource for the history of apples. The book is in two main sections. The first section covers the history of the apple in substantial detail, from its wild origins in the fruit forests of Kazakhstan, through the Greek and Roman period, middle ages, and into the modern era. The classic period of English apples in the Victorian period and the subsequent rise of interest in apples in the New World is particularly well described, along with the slow decline of English apple growing.

    There is also detailed coverage of apple juice and cider, focussing on the differing directions taken in England, France, and the USA.

    The second section of the Book of Apples is based around a directory listing more than 2,000 apple varieties. Of particular interest is a review of the way that apples can be classified - by shape, or flavour, or the growth habit of the tree.

    It is worth noting that the directory of apple varieties is based on varieties grown in the UK National Fruit Collection at Brogdale. This is quite clearly stated, but what is perhaps less clear is that a number of new and quite widely available apple varieties are not listed in the directory - because they are not in the Collection. So whilst you can read about 19th century apples such as Elise Rathke from Poland, or the Reinette Descardre from Belgium, there is no information about Jazz or Ariane - two excellent modern varieties that are available from supermarkets. Of course, a directory like this has to draw the line somewhere, and with over 2,000 entries it is one of the most comprehensive resource about apple varieties available.

    To round the book off there is also a short section on growing and propagating apples, but the keen gardener is likely to find more detail elsewhere.

    The latest edition is called "The New Book of Apples" and has more information on some of the newer apple varieties than the original 1993 book.

  • Growing Apples

    by Robert Atkinson

    Audience: Orchardists
    Category: Orchard design and maintenance

    This book is a comprehensive round-up of the state of apple growing in England in the 1950s.

    By modern standards the focus on growing Cox's Orange Pippin almost to the exclusion of anything else looks short-sighted, but at the time this was probably the most commercial variety that could be grown in apple-growing regions of England.

    The M9 dwarfing apple rootstock, the basis of most modern commercial orchards, was just becoming available at this time - the author refers to it as "type IX". This allowed higher density plantings than were possible with the older "standard" orchards and the author goes into some details about the economics of different planting approaches. However in terms of training of the trees, the book pre-dates the modern trend towards central leader trees, and staked bush trees are the basis of many of the planting layouts.

    The more recent development of organic orchard management techniques, and integrated pest management are also largely absent. Key weapons in the orchardist's battle against unwanted insects were DDT and lead arsenate, although with some foresight the author notes "... pest control is almost entirely a matter of killing the pests on the trees with poison sprays; research into biological control is virtually non-existent."

    Despite its 1950s vintage, if you are considering setting up a new orchard then it offers thorough and readable advice for the amateur enthusiast. Armed with this book, along with some more up to date information on tree training, pest management, and a modern apple tree nursery catalogue, you will have most of the information you need to start your own orchard.

  • The Fruit Manual

    by Robert Hogg

    Audience: Anyone interested in 19th century apple varieties
    Category: Variety selection

    First published in 1884, this is the 19th century equivalent of Joan Morgan's Book of Apples - although it covers pears, plums and many other fruit with the same degree of rigour. The book is dedicated to his friend Thomas Rivers, one of the most famous English fruit growers of the 19th century.

    As with some other "serious" books about apples, Hogg's descriptions can become a bit mechanical at times. This entry for Devonshire Quarrenden is typical:

    "Fruit, rather below medium size; oblate, and sometimes a little angular in its outline ..."

    However some of this is down to Hogg's interest in the precise classification of apples, and since he did not have access to computers and digital photography, it is perhaps the only way to provide the level of detail he wanted to achieve. Once past the formal description of each variety, Hogg's informed and infectious enthusiasm come through. Here is his description of the growing characteristics of Siberian Bitter Sweet:

    "The tree is a strong and vigourous grower, a most abundant bearer, and a perfect dreadnought to the wooly aphis".

    It is also obvious that Hogg knew everyone in the apple industry of his day. His descriptions and stories seem to come from first-hand experience and observation, and he frequently quotes the opinions of other growers he is in correspondence with. As a result 'The Fruit Manual' gives a fascinating glimpse into a period when the English apple was in its heyday.

  • Arbres Fruitieres

    by Eric Charton

    Audience: Orchardists
    Category: Pruning advice, Orchard design and maintenance

    This French language book is essentially aimed at the home orchardist or small farmer, and covers most aspects of small-scale fruit tree production. The level of detail is well beyond that found in most gardening books, but always practical rather than theoretical. Even if your grasp of French is limited, the photographs and clear diagrams make it easy to follow the topics. We have not really found an equivalent English-language book which covers the subject in this depth. The sections on grafting ("la multiplication") and other techniques for propagating trees are particularly detailed

    It is perhaps not widely known in the English-speaking world, but there is a long history of apple-growing in France. Many of the techniques of formal training such as the espalier and various cordons were first developed in France. More recently, French researchers have been at the forefront of new ways of growing apples commercially, and the widely used "axe centrale" training method (characterised by very tall but narrow trees on dwarf rootstocks) was developed in France. In addition, a number of new apple varieties such as Tentation and Ariane have been raised in France.

  • Rivers Nursery - the art of practical pomology

    by Elizabeth Waugh

    Audience: Orchardists, Social historians
    Category: Orchard history

    John Rivers established a fruit tree nursery at Sawbridgeworth in Hertfordshire, England, in 1725. The business was run by his descendants until the 1980s, and for more than two centuries Rivers Nursery was a centre of production of fruit trees and the development of new varieties.

    The book is intended as a social and economic history of this era, which spanned the heyday of English fruit development. It has been published to help with establishing a community orchard on the site of the original nursery.

    As well as the interesting historical aspects, there is also some insight into the great range of varieties which were introduced by this nursery - from the well-known Rivers Early Prolific, to the work with the French diaphanous gages which led to the Early Transparent and Golden Transparent gages.

  • Apples and Orchards in Sussex

    by Brian Short et al

    Audience: Orchardists, Social historians, Local food projects
    Category: Orchard history

    This book arose from a project led by local charity Action in Rural Sussex, working to establish new school orchards and research the history of orchards in the county.

    It offers a comprehensive review of the history of orchards in Sussex, as well as sections on anything and everything to do with orchards. In some ways reading this book is like rambling through an old orchard, with little snippets of fascinating interest scattered throughout. For us one of the best sections is the Orchard Stories, which are a collection of interviews with local growers which give a deep insight into the way orchards in the county (and probably throughout England) have changed in the last 50 years, with the 1987 hurricane having a particularly profound impact.

    Whilst the focus is on the county of Sussex, the book is likely to be of interest to a much wider audience. Anyone wanting to learn about the history of English orchards, or to find out about local Sussex apple varieties grown elsewhere, or considering establishing a new local orchard, or with an interest in local horticulture and local food issues will find the contents very relevant. Indeed the book provides an obvious template for orchard enthusiasts in other areas to put together their own local orchard histories.

    The book is available through local bookstores and online.