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Devon’s fruit-growing history book published

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A new book which records Devon’s fruit-growing history and heritage apple varieties – many of which are under threat – has been produced with the help of the Devon branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

CPRE Devon sponsored The Devon Orchards Book, written by orchard expert Michael Gee, to preserve important knowledge of rural life and traditions for future generations. Michael Gee is the founder of Orchards Live, a charity which protects and promotes Devon’s orchards and traditional apple varieties. He is also the author of Mazzards: The Revival of the Curious North Devon Cherry.

Since the 1960s, two-thirds of the county’s orchards have been lost and many ancient apple varieties have disappeared. In recent years, there’s been a revival of interest in replanting orchards across the county, including the creation of many community orchards. There’s also been a renaissance in micro-brewing and artisanal cider-making.

Penny Mills, Director of CPRE Devon, says, “We are delighted to have sponsored Michael Gee’s new book on the traditional orchards of Devon and the ancient varieties of apples which were once widely grown here. Michael’s meticulous research into the county’s fruit-growing history is a wonderful example of what we strive to do at CPRE Devon – preserve rural knowledge and skills and all that is precious about our county and our countryside.”

She added, “We hope that readers of this book will be inspired to spread the word about Devon’s very special part in the history of British orchards.”

Author Michael Gee says, “It’s challenging to grow good fruit in Devon, and yet orchards and cider are part of the county’s image. Orchards once surrounded most farms and villages, and there are still hundreds remaining, plus some new ones, but their story has never been told. I wanted to know, and others to know, how Devonians rose to meet the fruit-growing challenge, so I researched and wrote the book. I’m glad for CPRE Devon’s help because it will sell at a very reasonable price.”

Last spring, a joint project between Orchards Live, the South West Fruit Group, and the Royal Horticultural Society established a unique ‘mother orchard’ of Devon apples at RHS Garden Rosemoor at Great Torrington. There are around 70 known varieties of apple found and grown in Devon. 45 of the most threatened – among them, eaters, cookers and cider apples – will be grown on the site. The orchard will ensure that these diverse types of ancient apples won’t die out.

Jonathan Webster, Curator of RHS Garden Rosemoor, says, “We welcome the production of this new book to raise awareness of the importance of preserving the wonderful diversity of Devon’s traditional apple varieties, many of which are now rare. If we can encourage people to grow them, then they will come off the endangered list.”

The Devon Orchards Book, published by Halsgrove, is an ideal Christmas gift. It costs £14.99 and can be bought via CPRE Devon’s website www.cpredevon.org.uk

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