Old Orchards, Nut Plats and Hop Gardens
Old apple, cherry and pear orchards have large fruit trees which make an attractive contribution to the landscape in Kent and have contributed a great deal to the name ‘The Garden of England’. In the Stour Valley there are now only a few old cherry orchards and perhaps thirty old apple orchards. Modern orchards have dwarf trees, which are easier to manage, but they are not as attractive, nor as valuable for wildlife as old orchards.Big old fruit trees have large trunks for hole nesting birds such as blue tit, woodpecker and little owl. The reasons for its decline are not well understood, but the decline of old orchards could be a factor. Various species of lichen and moss are also found in abundance in old orchards but not in modern orchards. The blossom and fruit also provide food for butterflies, moths, small mammals and even badgers, and of course mistletoe has long been associated with old orchards.
Locally produced organic fruit is not easy to find, but the very attractive No Man’s Orchard at Chartham Hatch has Bramley apples made available through local box schemes.
Canterbury alone used to grow 200 acres of cobnuts in the not too distant past, but there are few if any commercial producers in the Stour Valley today. Some of the old cob nut orchards still exist and these provide valuable wildlife habitats adding to diversity in the countryside. Kentish cobnuts are still produced in the west of the county and these are available in local shops and quality supermarkets from September.
Hop Gardens started to appear in Kent in the 17th century and have been strongly associated with the ‘Garden of England’ ever since. One can easily guage the amount of land once covered by hop gardens in the Stour Valley by the number of converted oast houses. Shepherd Neame, the Faversham brewers, use a percentage of local hops.