Monthly Archives: October 2009

Scotts Nursery – Scotts of Merriott – goes into liquidation

Scott’s of Merriott was, as my father (who was born in the reign of the Great Queen) used to say, a name to conjure with.  In their day they were unquestionably the premier fruit tree nursery in the country. He and I (from the age of about 10 onwards) used to make an annual pilgrimage in our 1955 Ford Zephyr Zodiac from Wrotham in Kent to Merriott in Somerset to buy bareroot fruit and roses. Dad would not have gone anywhere else (except perhaps to buy from me now I have a nursery of my own) so he would have been very sad indeed to see a great name slip away. And as a published author he would have had a few better chosen words to say about it on this site than I can muster.

Scott’s have been around a long time – so long in fact that there is considerable evidence to support the claim that the use of the word “nursery” as applied to plants originated with them. They grew roses in considerable number (and well) but fruit trees and apple trees in particular were their speciality.  Holders of a national collection of apple trees, one of the biggest trainers of skilled grafters with (in the 60’s) the largest apprenticeship scheme in the UK fruit industry, tragically Scott’s are no more.

They lost their way perhaps 15 years ago as they tried to “modernise” and become a garden centre. Merriott is a lovely town in Somerset, but passing trade is not its strong suit.  Marketing was weak – the last Scott’s catalogue was produced in either 2004 or 2005, they came late to the internet and customer service which had once been the best, declined.

The death throes lasted for about three years – Scotts accounts show it lost money consistently over that time and it went though an administration (reflecting an inability to continue trading solvently) and settlement with its creditors in 2007.  However all that came to an end when the liquidators were appointed in September 2009. Sadly, no one is interested in the business any more – sales are perhaps 10% (in real terms) of what they were even 5 or 6 years ago, the site is off the beaten track, the trained staff have gone to other specialist fruit tree nurseries such as Ashridge Trees, Keepers, Bernwode and others. And as a result the customers have gone too.  The liquidators have a closing down sale in the second week of November.

The sad moral of the story is that fruit tree nurseries, like any other business need to stick to their knitting.  Be clear about what you are doing, be good at it and  never stop trying to be better than you were.

Given the way the industry has moved on, we are unlikely to see the like of Scotts again – Sic transit gloria…..

Orchard Hygiene – A Woman’s Work is Never done

Having  healthy fruit trees is a necessary precursor to maximising their crops. The debris under trees becomes increasingly unhealthy as the year wears on so it is a sad fact of life, in orchards as in the home, that clearing up is a necessary evil…. the fruit trees site does not seek to cause you work, but sometimes it is unavoidable.

In the fruit orchard this is never more true than in late autumn in October and November. When you are not picking apples and we generally have plenty to pick in an orchard of nearly 50 trees (our record for harvesting, storing, juicing, cidering, drying and simply eating is now just over 850 Kgs of apples) you are picking them up. Windfalls make good cider, but they encourage slugs and provide shelter and late season food for a range of pests. So pick them up and use them, compost them, feed them to the chickens or lose them; but don’t leave them on the ground.

The same thing goes for leaves. Rake them up and burn them or take them to the dump. For the sake of your orchard and garden please DO NOT PUT THEM ON THE COMPOST HEAP.  Fruit tree leaves almost invariably carry some disease or another by the end of the season – they have a wide range of scabs, rusts and blights to choose from and the only safe place for a diseased leaf is on the fire (or down at the council dump). Any organic grower will tell you that you can eradicate a number of fungal infections just by being scrupulous about getting rid of fruit tree leaves – most notably scab part of the lifecycle of which involves the migration from tree to ground (where it overwinters on organic detritus) before rising up into the tree the following spring to reinfect its foliage.

And ditto for prunings.  They smell sweet when burned and you can spread the bonfire ash on the ground around your trees as it is rich in potash or just put it in the compost.

And finally, clear grass and weeds away from the trunks of the fruit  trees in your orchard. Leave a circle of bare earth around the base of each tree ideally 1 metre in diameter.  There are several benefits to this. First it means that you do not damage the bark when you mow the orchard. Second it means that rodents that like eating bark have to do so in plain sight of predators such as cats, owls, kestrels and the like (which means they stay away). Third it removes habitat and cover for insect pests that hibernate on the ground.  Finally it allows you to spread some well rotted organic matter on the bare earth beneath the tree which will feed it and improve soil texture and moisture retention. All of which will hugely increase your crop quality and size next year.