After alot of pleasant sunny weather at the start of summer our peaches have started cropping quite early. Amsten June is our earliest variety to ripen, and this year we picked our first peach on the 15thof June, which is always a special moment in the year. This is a beautiful white-fleshed peach, which is grown in the protection of our peach house. As the fruit starts to ripen the greenhouse fills with the most delicious smell of peach, and the flavour of this fruit straight from the tree is like nothing else! These early peaches are lovely but July really is the peak of the season with the varieties Francis, then Red Haven and Peregrine all ripening in order. After the peach house has finished producing, we move out to the kitchen garden where the trees, fan trained on the south wall, continue cropping until early September. For this we use a variety called Avalon Pride which has been bred to cope with our sometimes unpredictable English summers.
It is quite possible to grow peaches outside, but by having some trees under glass we can produce fruit earlier, more reliably and of a much higher quality. Before the days of refrigeration and the global transport of food, Peach houses were common on most estates. This was the only reliable way of producing what was then a luxury ingredient. Most of these historic buildings are now derelict and it is very unusual to be able to use a glasshouse like this, as it was originally intended.
Our glasshouse was restored in 2012 and as soon as the last pain of glass was in place the trees were planted. William Robinson had always grown peaches here and so it is an important part of our work, to keep this craft and heritage alive. Now our trees are in peak production and producing a quality crop can be demanding, requiring a lot of labour. They need to be hand pollinated, fruit thinned and pruned regularly and controlling the pests organically can take some careful management. But the flavour of a properly ripened peach is so unique and because the fruit is so delicate it is something which can only be experienced from the tree.
Growing peaches the Victorian way is challenging but preserving this craft and supplying Head Chef George with some of the tastiest peaches in England makes the effort more than worthwhile.
Head Gardener Tom.