Trip to Brogdale Cherry Festival

by Nick on July 25, 2010

A couple weeks ago, the Hackney Harvest group took a trip to visit the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale Farm.  It is one of the largest fruit collections in the world with more than 3,500 cultivars of fruit, the goal being to protect plant genetic resources for the future.

brogdale orchards

Our goal on this cherry festival day was to learn more about cherries, plums, pears, and apples, and meet the people working at Brogdale to make some useful links for our projects (experts on fruit ID, cider making experts, general orchard knowledge).

heading for the fruit

We got a tour of the orchards straight away by Jonathan Fryer, the resident cherry expert at the National Fruit Collection.  On our way to the cherry trees, we passed through the pear orchards.  Jonathan explained that  Kent is a key fruit growing region in the UK with 80% of the domestic pear crop grown here.

the cherry man

We talked about and tasted a number of the varieties they have.  We also discussed management of the orchards.  Jonathan explained that they spray all their cherry trees because many of the varieties are not pest resistant.  Also every five minutes or so a loud bang like a gunshot echoes through the trees to scare away the birds.


sweet and sour

Their trees are all grafted which means a cutting is spliced onto a different rootstock.  It gives a more productive and smaller tree that is easier to harvest, and also necessary to guarantee the cultivar against cross pollination.  They don’t water and never have, not even in years of drought.

Jonathan explained that cherry varieties that are cultivated commercially are larger, firmer (making it easier to transport them), and bland (so as to offend as few palates as possible).  We thought this was a shame considering the intense flavours of the varieties we were trying.


We ran into Joan Morgan on the way back from the orchards.  She is a fruit expert who has website for fruit discussions: fruit forum

She explained that three good samples of the fruit is what you need to identify a variety.  She also mentioned Derek Rye’s apple helpline on Friday afternoon.

We talked with Jonathan about the possibility that he might come down to our cherry harvesting day next year.  He seemed interested as long as we have our cherry day on a different weekend from theirs.  In terms of London’s fruit history, he said South London was historically where the fruit orchards were, in particular by Oval.

mirabelle de metz

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