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Sara Draycott

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What do Aphrodite, Plato and Alexander the Great have in Common? Apples! - a blog by Rohanna Heyes

Posted by Sara Draycott on 24 Oct 2012 at 10:46 PM

Everyone knows the old saying about eating an apple a day, but this is just the tiniest tip of the mountain of apple facts and folklore. This wealth of information could perhaps be attributed to the fruit's long association with humans, so long that it might just be the oldest cultivated tree. Ancestral roots are believed to be embedded in montane regions of western Asia, with the centre of genetic diversity of the genus Malus occurring in Turkey. Throughout millennia of cultivation some 7500 different cultivars have been bred for a variety of strengths: storing, eating, juicing, cider- making and cooking. Interestingly the development of the all-important dwarfing rootstocks are believed to originate somewhere in the regions of present day Kazakhstan, discovered apparently by none other than Alexander the Great sometime around 300BC.


Photo 1: Apple 'Livermere Favourite'

Last week I had the pleasure of working with the Wisley Fruit and Vegetable team for a day to help out with the annual apple harvest. RHS Garden Wisley boasts an impressive orchard of apples, not much smaller than some commercial orchards I have worked on in New Zealand. The main difference to a commercial orchard being the enormous variety that is grown - not 6 but more like 700 different cultivars! Bearing this in mind, imagine the choreographed dance that goes on every year to get each cultivar picked at the right time.

Photo 2: Happy apple pickers at Wisley

Photo 3: More happy apple pickers here at Wisley

Meanwhile gluts just seem to get more glutty at this time of year. It's that final crescendo of fruitfulness, but fortunately the fruits of our labour are not going to waste. First, the good trees - the ones that taste nice, look nice, perform well - these get stripped of what is known as a show layer. These apples get put aside for display, some venturing as far afield as Germany. After these come the consumables, the ones that can be sold, or stored and then sold for eating or cooking, obviously depending on the variety. Meanwhile, apples which are scarred from their experience of life on the tree take a different path and have their juices extracted to make Wisley apple juice and cider. Named varieties of Wisley Apples are available for purchase from the fruit cart outside the plant centre, while cider, juices and delectable apple treats can be bought at the Wisley shop and cafes throughout the gardens.

Photo 4: 'Hoary Morning' apples sorted for showing and cider-making

Be careful though, of to whom you throw an apple and be careful of catching an apple thrown at you:

I throw the apple at you, and if you are willing to love me, take it and share your girlhood with me; but if your thoughts are what I pray they are not, even then take it, and consider how short-lived is beauty. - Plato, Epigram VII

According to Greek myth apples were considered sacred to the goddess of love (Aphrodite) and throwing an apple to someone was a declaration of love, even a proposal of marriage, and catching one akin to agreement. Subsequent nuptials were blessed with the throwing of apples (apparently popular before rice came on the scene) and on the wedding night a woman was said to be assured abundance and fertility by the simple act of eating an apple before bed!

For advice on growing apples check out the RHS website:



Ofer said:

Great image Sara,

I actually find it amazing when I see apples from new zealand in the super markets, when it can be dead easy to grow then here where we are. ( Shropshire )

Talking with a scientist here, the main reason is that farmers always were using land here for grazing.

And seems like growing apples in the UK is away back , with lack of research on what works and what not - It feels so sad that in days that economy is like that shape and no investment in agriculture research.

there were massive development in growing fruits around the world - that seems like not yet heard of in the UK ....

My father in law got in his garden a dwarf tree  that with no maintenance at all produce over 350 perfect apples every year. If I had some money to invest apples will be it.

on 29 Oct 2012 at 10:28 AM

Sara Draycott said:

Thanks for your comments Ofer. You may find it interesting that in New Zealand apples from Europe, Asia and America are frequently found on the supermarket shelves. I think the availability of foreign apples in any country is an economic issue stemming from the ability to make money from imports and exports  ( visit For example in 2008 England exported more oranges than apples- bearing in mind there is no commercial orange growing going on in this country it is quite a feat.

Nonetheless this country has a fascinating, long and varied history of growing and breeding apples and research is on-going. The M9 rootstock, developed at East Malling in Kent is used the all over the world to provide uniformity and manageability in cropping. So it is not so much that we are behind the times here in the UK, rather producers are at the mercy of economy-as of course are we the consumers.

The way around this is to take our consumer choice and make decisions about what we want to eat, and where it comes from. I have always had the view that in England consumers have a strong voice and your comments reinforce this. I know in Suffolk and Kent that local apples are easy to source in season, perhaps in Shropshire there are some smaller orchardists, famers markets, farm shops? Growing your own is another option and doesn’t necessarily need to be expensive. The RHS website provides useful information on growing your own apples and if you are an RHS member you can always contact advisory for more specifics.

Happy Growing!

Rohanna Heyes

on 14 Nov 2012 at 12:15 AM

Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens | said:

Pingback from  Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens |

on 26 Jun 2015 at 11:27 PM