The Playing Fields are situated in Caversham Heights and cover approximately 25 acres.
In 1938 Mr. C.E. Hewett gifted The Mapledurham Playing Fields on the understanding they be used forever for outdoor games, sports, and past-times for the purpose of a Playing Field and Recreation Ground. Some information on the Charity, named Recreation Ground Charity. Charitable trust number 304328, can be found here on the Charity Commission website.
The Community Orchard
How did the orchard at Mapledurham come about?
Mapledurham Playing Fields were provided through a trust for recreation. The main reason for planting the fruit trees is to provide an enhancement of the landscape for non-sport recreation (walking or picnicking) as well as seasonal visual interest.
With very strong local support for the planting of the orchard, a mix of 88 apple, pear, cherry, plum and quince trees was planted by corporate volunteers on 13 September 2010. Almost all of the trees were donated by the company, Boehringer Ingelheim.
What about the wildflowers?
On 30 September 2010 volunteers sowed perennial wildflower seeds. There is crane’s bill, scabious, white campion, yellow rattle, ox-eye daisy, common vetch, birdsfoot trefoil and self-heal.
Poppies, which are an annual, were also sown, to provide a strong display of colour in the first year, because perennials can take a couple of years to establish. Because the site is being maintained for perennial flowers, over time, the poppies will diminish.
How will the orchard be maintained?
The grass and wildflowers are being left to grow long under the trees, while the paths and centre circle are close-mown. The meadow will be cut in late summer.
There is a history of volunteering at Mapledurham, and the Council will work with the Friends and other user groups to water and prune the trees while they are establishing. After that, the main maintenance tasks are pruning and harvesting. This provides opportunities for local people to share skills, to learn and to socialise.
Visitors are welcome to scrump. At harvest, the fruit will be taken by volunteers who help, and the remainder will be given away or sold to provide funds for future maintenance.
If you would like to volunteer to help with watering, pruning and harvesting, please contact the Parks Office on 0118 9372724.
A special note for dog-walkers
Dogs are welcome to play in the orchard. Please remember that children are also encouraged to play here. Dog-walkers are asked to be very vigilant about watching their dogs when they are in the orchard and cleaning up every single thing they leave behind.
What fruit trees have been planted at Mapledurham?
To get a good crop of apples, an apple tree needs a pollinator: a different apple variety that flowers at the same time. Apple trees are classified in groups, according to when they usually start flowering, with group 1 the earliest and group 6 the latest. Most trees planted here are in groups 3 and 4. Trees in the same or adjacent groups will pollinate each other.
The earlier the tree starts to flower, the greater the chance of frost damage, especially on a site like this that is frost-prone. That is why the earliest varieties have been planted at the top of the slope which gets less frost than lower down.
Early cropping apples do not keep, and should be eaten within a week of picking. Mid-season apples, picked in September and October, will keep for a month or two, if stored somewhere cool. Late apples can last over the whole winter, but not in a centrally heated house.
Apple trees are grafted, and it is the rootstock that controls growth (vigour). These trees are all on M26 rootstocks, and will, on average, reach a height of 3m (10 ft).
Most of the apples planted here are dessert or dual-purpose (dessert and cooking) varieties. Some trees crop well every year, and others have a bumper crop one year and a light one the next. Both kinds of apples are planted here.
Most pears, like most apples, require another tree in the same pollination group for cropping. All three varieties planted here are in pollination group D.
The eventual size of a pear tree depends on both the rootstock and the cultivar. The pears planted here will grow to between 3m and 6m tall.
Almost all of the pear varieties here are dual purpose (dessert and culinary).
Pears are best picked before they are ripe (as the first windfalls occur), and stored somewhere cool and well ventilated to ripen. Most do not last as long as apples, and need to be preserved in syrup or frozen.
Most sweet cherry trees need a pollinator while sour cherries are self-fertile and do not. The varieties planted here are both self-fertile sweet cherries, Stella and Sasha. Because they are both in flowering group 4, they will also pollinate each other. The main cause of poor pollination is far more likely to be bad weather at blossom time, which limits the activity of insects.
Both Sasha and Stella are reliable croppers, and fruit in July. The main ‘pests’ of cherry trees are birds, and, if the trees are not netted to protect the crops, most of the fruit will be eaten by birds.
The development of dwarfing Colt rootstock in the 1970s has made it possible to grow fruit cherries in smaller domestic gardens. These trees will grow to about 4m.
Some plum trees are self-fertile, but many require a compatible plum tree nearby for pollination to occur. Plum trees have a short and very distinct pollination period – almost exactly ten days – so choosing a compatible tree is very important. The Merryweather Damsons and Victoria plums are self-fertile, but the Greengages will need the Victorias for pollination.
Of all dessert plums, the Old English Greengage is reputed to have the best flavour, but it does not crop well. The Victoria is also delicious and produces heavy crops in September. The damson is a cooking plum, with a sharp taste, good for tarts and jams.
Quince belongs to the same family as apples and pears; its shape is similar to a pear, but larger. It has lumpy yellow skin and hard flesh that is quite bitter so should not be eaten raw. When fully ripe, the quince has a wonderful perfume. Long slow cooking brings out the delicious flavour. Quinces make excellent jellies, marmalades and chutneys, and can be used poached as an accompaniment to pork, chicken or duck
What is happening to orchards in Britain?
Orchards were once widespread throughout the British Isles. There are different apple varieties from north of Inverness to the edge of Cornwall. Until recently, every farm, country house and suburban garden had its own collection of fruit trees.
Pressure on land for new houses and roads, and imports of cheap fruit from overseas, have caused the loss of many of these small orchards. Orchards in villages and on the edge of towns are prime targets for development.
There has been a 60% decline in ancient orchards in England since the 1950s, and an even greater loss of commercial orchards: over 60% in the past 40 years. Our region is losing both old traditional orchards and young commercial ones through a combination of three main factors: replacement with arable crops, redevelopment for housing or industry, and neglect or abandonment.
Traditional orchards are now a priority habitat under the UK Government’s Biodiversity Action Plan.
Why are orchards so special?
Orchards are beautiful, preserve genetic diversity, are a local food source, and have great wildlife value.
All orchards benefit wildlife in some way, as a food source, as a home, or both. Some types of orchard are much better at doing this than others. At the bottom of the biodiversity league are modern, densely planted, single variety orchards where the fruit trees are short lived, are on dwarf rootstocks, and are intensively managed using lots of chemical inputs. At the top are the much more lightly managed traditional types of orchard, where widely spaced and longer lived trees on half standard or standard rootstocks grow in unimproved grassland and produce a range of fruit types and varieties.
With our modern urban way of life, we need more places to relax and play in. We also need shared activities to enable people of different age groups and backgrounds to come together. As they mature, orchards become special places for children to play.
Community orchards help to revive an interest in fruit growing, provide a way of sharing knowledge and horticultural skills, and stimulate us into growing food for ourselves again.
The planting of new traditional orchards across the region is important, so future generations of people and wildlife can continue to benefit from this complex natural habitat.