Howgate Wonder at Northcourt, Shorwell.
GARDENING ATTENTION always turns to harvest at this time of mellow fruitfulness.
Well, it should be fruitful but reports reach me it is a pretty fruitless year for many apple trees, and, as king beekeeper Dave Cassell will tell you, it has been worse for apiarists.
The chill, wet weather just at blossom time drastically reduced the number of pollinators on the wing. As Dave will tell you with some consternation, he had to feed his bees honey to keep the hives alive, which meant trees which bloomed at certain times are barren because the bees could not get out much.
That has meant that while those trees in my front garden are bare of fruit, several varieties which bloomed at a slightly different time on the allotment are tipping over with apples and specimens in my little orchard have a medium amount.
The fruit I do have has one thing in common — cosmetically, it is not good because the damp has meant diseases have flourished.
All in all, it has been a 'a topsy turvy old year for fruit’ as John Collins told me in his recent e-mail.
He was not the first to send me a recent photograph of a tree in bloom and in fruit at the same time.
But the positive to all those negatives is the curse of autumn — the wasp — is simply not about at all. That is a real bonus because they seize on any wound on the fruit. They can prove a nasty surprise at picking time, hidden in the cavity they eat and expand.
The Island’s own apple detective, Alison Harding, has been busier than the bees in identifying apple trees around the Island that have fruited — and finding real treasures in forgotten orchards.
She was also told about what could have been a new world record apple, if it had not been eaten by its grower.
Alison said: "I was told about a Howgate Wonder apple that was heavier and bigger than the world record beater featured on my apple website — unfortunately there is no proof as they ate it!"
Whether it would have beaten the 3lb 11oz Bembridge specimen, which took the world record in 1997, or the 4lb 1oz apple grown in Japan eight years later is unknown but I’m willing to bet there were some pie leftovers.
Howgate Wonder was raised in 1915 by George Wratten in his garden in Bembridge as a Blenheim Orange-Newton Wonder cross and is known for its extremely large fruits, which are good cookers.
Alison was kind enough to send me a photograph from her apple archive detailing just how large Howgate can get.
Pictured, in 2004, was the now sadly departed Nancy Garbutt, then 92, the daughter-in-law of the apple’s creator. She also sent me a photograph of a very rare fruit indeed.
Alison is probably as close as she can get to confirming the identity of the rarity, which is growing in the grounds of Northcourt at Shorwell.
Frogmore Prolific was raised by William Ingram, the head gardener at the Frogmore Estate in Windsor, sometime before 1865. It probably came to Northcourt in about 1900 and has done well to still be producing fruit more than a century on.
Frogmore Prolific was a popular cooking apple in London market gardens in the 19th century but, as tastes changed and better varieties became available, it fell from grace.
The Northcourt specimen stands beside some other very old espaliers: Newton Wonder, Warner’s King, Sturmer Pippin and two Alison cannot, as yet, identify.
Alison said: "On balance, I think the Northcourt apple is Frogmore Prolific — it’s just a pity it’s not a better and more useful apple."
Her apple adventures recorded on her identification website include that of a probably unique Alverstone fruit.
She is pleased to confirm the Alverstone apple is still with us after it was grafted and planted as a little community orchard from a tree discovered on the edge of Alverstone Marshes in 1993. It was thought to have grown from a core thrown out of a train window when there was rail on what is now the cycle track.
Alison’s website, which now has links to those of other organisations and like-minded enthusiasts, has had loads of worldwide hits and is being developed as a comprehensive information database.
"People have been very complimentary and the only criticism I have had has been constructive and very helpful," she told me.
"I do reply to all e-mails and this has been very interesting, talking to other people as interested as myself (perhaps obsessive is a better word?). Some of the exchange of information has been fascinating and has been added to the information on the website
"We are now linked to other apple websites around the country. They have us as a link and you can get straight through to theirs from my website too.
"There are lovely people to talk to with a lot of knowledge and there are some surprising tales too.
"I had a good story about a lady tracing her family tree and found a connection to the Pitmaston pine apple. She discovered her ancestor’s home was called Pitmaston, to honour the connection."
• Alison’s site is at www.gardenappleid.co.uk