In the Autumn of 2022, a small orchard was planted at Church Farm, the experimental trial station in Bawburgh to celebrate the historical fruit breeding carried out at the John Innes, from our beginnings back in 1910 until the 1970’s – read more about the history of John Innes and apple breeding.
The primary aim of this fruit breeding research was to study inheritance, but it was soon realised that important traits such as flavour were not inherited in a straightforward way.
Pollination partners were also studied leading to the publication of “The fertility rules in fruit planting” in the 1950’s and exhibiting at ‘The Festival of Britain` in 1951.
In over fifty years the John Innes named around thirteen varieties of apples, eight varieties of pear, nineteen varieties of cherries and three varieties of plum. Several of these varieties can still be purchased today. Others can only be obtained by grafting from trees held by the National Fruit Collection, and a few are lost to history.
At Church Farm in the Historic Orchard, we have chosen to grow all the commercial varieties we can locate of apples and pears developed at the John Innes plus a few varieties that did not get released but are held at the National Fruit Collection. We have also planted 3 cherry trees developed at the John Innes. You can see the full list of trees planted in this orchard below.
All the apple trees are grafted onto Malling-Merton root stocks. These root stocks are woolly-aphid resistant and were the result of thirty years’ experimental breeding by the John Institute and the East Malling research station. In the 1950’s these root stocks were sent to research stations all over the Commonwealth and the United States. They are still a standard rootstock for both garden and commercially grown apples. The series (MM 101-114) also carries genes for powdery mildew resistance.
The prefix “Merton” comes from the suburb of South London where the John Innes Horticultural Institute was originally based.
- Merton Beauty: (Ellison’s Orange x Cox’s Orange Pippin) A small, sweet variety with an aniseed flavour which is best eaten fresh. It was raised in 1933 by M B Crane and commercially released in 1962. Pollination Group D.
- Merton Charm: (McIntosh Red x Cox’s Orange Pippin) This was a favourite amongst John Innes staff for their own gardens. They are a small fruit, juicy with a sweet aromatic flavour. It was developed by M B Crane in 1933 and released in 1962. Pollination Group B.
- Merton Delight: (Cox’s Orange Pippin x Golden Russet) A pale yellow apple with cream flesh and good flavour that keeps for 2 months in cold storage. Raised by M B Crane but discarded in Britain in 1959, however scions (cuttings) were sent from the John Innes Horticultural Institute to the United States Department of Agriculture in 1953 and 1956 to use in their breeding programme. Pollination Group C.
- Merton Joy: (Cox’s orange Pippin x No. 855 (Sturmer Pippin x Cox’s Orange)) A heavy cropping apple with yellowish flesh, firm and crisp but loses flavours a few days after picking. In research notes the apple is described as a good dessert apple for the end of October but tends to be dull. Developed by M B Crane in 1946 and released in 1965. Pollination Group D.
- Merton Knave: (Laxton’s Early Crimson x Epicure) A small to medium apple with white flesh and a red stain next to the skin, soft, juicy and has a superb flavour. Flowers are tolerant of late frosts. It keeps for one month in cold storage. It was raised by Gavin Brown and released in 1975. This variety was the first top fruit to receive a patent. Pollination Group D
- Merton Pearmain: (Laxton’s Superb x Cox’s Orange Pippin) The apples have cream coloured flesh and are firm, juicy, sweet and aromatic keeping for 3 months in cold storage. However, it is biennial, producing very little fruit every second year. Developed by M B Crane in 1934 but never released. Research notes recorded in 1953 state that as the apple was being grown at Wisely no further action was necessary. Pollination group D.
- Merton Pippin: (Cox’s Orange Pippin x Sturmer Pippin) Apples have a cream-coloured flesh and are crisp, juicy and sweet/sharp. They keep for 4-5 months in cold storage. Raised by M B Crane in 1914 and released in 1948. Pollination group D.
- Merton Prolific: (Northern Greening x Cox’s Orange Pippin) A late season apple with cream flesh, firm and sweet. A heavy cropper that keeps well. Raised by M B Crane in 1914 and named in 1947. Pollination group C.
- Merton Reinette: (Cox’s Orange Pippin x Herrings Pippin) Apples have a cream-coloured flesh, are sweet and aromatic and keep for 2 months in cold storage. Raised by M B Crane in 1933 and released in 1962. Pollination group E.
- Merton Russet: (Sturmer Pippin x Cox’s Orange Pippin) A late season, small, gold apple with flesh than changes from green to cream in November. A sweet mellow flavour when kept. Raised by M B Crane in 1921 and named in 1943. Pollination group C.
- Merton Worcester: (Worcestor Pearmain x Cox’s Orange) One of the first apples developed at the John Institute. It is a small to medium apple with a mild sweet flavour and is naturally resistant to scab. It is a heavy cropper. It was developed by M B Crane in 1914 and released in 1947. This apple was still being sold commercially in Sainsbury’s supermarkets in the 1980’s. Pollination group C.
- Gavin: (Merton Worcester x scab resistant seedling (Jonathan X Malus Floribunda X Rome Beauty)). With crab apple in its parentage, this tree produces beautiful blossom. A firm apple with a well-balanced flavour, neither too sweet nor acidic. It has excellent scab resistance and is a heavy cropper but has some biennial tendency. It was raised by Gavin Brown in 1956. Pollination group D.
- Chad’s Favourite: (Northern Greening x Cox’s Orange Pippin) A large apple, soft flesh with an aromatic flavour. It is biennial, heavily cropping every other year. Raised by M B Crane in 1939 and named in 1952. Pollination group C.
A Japanese Crab apple was planted to aid pollination and is also in the background of the apple variety ‘’Gavin’’.
Although several pears were raised by the John Institute, only two are commercially available today, Merton Pride and Merton Star. The pears planted in this orchard are on the root stock, Kirchensaller which will allow the trees to eventually reach 6 meters in height. They are usually long lived. An additional Merton Pride tree was planted that is on a Quince A root stock, this will only reach 3 meters but will fruit earlier.
- Merton Pride: (Glou Morceau x Williams Bon Chretien, 4x form). A large pear with creamy, soft, juicy flesh with excellent flavour. The tree does have some biennial tendency. It was raised by M B Crane in 1941, named Merton Favourite in 1953 but the name was transferred to a cherry and the pear was renamed Merton Pride in 1957. Pollination group D but as it is triploid it is ineffective as a pollination partner to other trees.
- Merton Royal: (Doyenne du Comice x Williams Bon Chretien, 4x form) A large pear with white flesh, buttery and sweet. Pollination group 4 but it is triploid so cannot be used as a pollinator. It was raised by M.B Crane in 1941.
- Merton Star: (Maruerite Marillat x Conference) A sweet perfumed mid-season dessert pear. It has creamy, juicy flesh with a good flavour. It was raised in 1933 by M.B Crane and introduced in 1967. Pollination group D.
- Two additional pear varieties were also planted to help with pollination, on old English pear from Norfolk called Robin and a pear called Beth which was developed by East Malling research station in 1938.
Many of the cherry trees developed by the John Innes Institute are still commercially available today . A variety of cherry was developed by Dr D Lewis in the 1950’s which was numbered JI 2420 (Emperor Francis x Napoleon). This was self-fertile, a very useful characteristic where growing space is limiting. The varieties chosen for Church farm are on Colt root stocks which are moderately vigorous and will eventually reach a height of 3.5 to 4.5m.
- Merton Bigarreau: (Knights Early Black x Napoleon Bigarreau) A dark red, sweet tasting cherry with excellent flavour. Bred at the John Innes in 1924. It is self-sterile. Pollination group C, Merton Glory and Stella are pollination partners.
- Merton Glory: (Ursula Rivers x Noble) An early season, large, heart-shaped, sweet cherry however they bruise easily so do not store well. It has beautiful blossom in the Spring. The tree was bred at the John Innes Institute in 1931. Pollination group B, Merton Bigarreau is a pollination partner.
- Stella: (Lambert x JI2420) Stella was raised by Dr C Lapins in 1968 at the Summerland Research Station in British Columbia using pollen from the self-fertile cherry, JI 2420 sent over from the John Innes Institute. Stella has large, dark red, sweet tasting fruits. It was the first self-fertile variety, but it is also an excellent pollinator for other varieties. A widely grown variety.
Fruit trees developed at the John Innes Institute have also been planted at three other sites.
- In 2010, the main driveway at the John Innes Centre was planted with apple and pear trees to commemorate the centenary anniversary of the John Innes Institute. The apple trees still survive but unfortunately the pears have not. They are planted on an exposed bank which is possibly too dry for a successful orchard
- Thanks to Professor Trevor Wang, an emeritus fellow, and the Cringleford Parish Council, a new orchard has been planted at Cringleford Heights, a new housing development on the site of Newfound Farm where the John Innes carried out some of its field trials before moving to its present site at Church Farm, Bawburgh. Seventy fruit trees chosen from varieties developed at the John Innes Institute were planted in the winter of 22/23 and they provide a historical link to both the John Innes Pomology Department and the land used for research by the John Innes Centre.
- The Merton Orchards Project was planted in 2010 and is in the borough of Merton which is where the original John Innes Horticultural Institution was based. As well as apples, pears, plums and cherries there are also a couple of John Innes developed blackberry bushes growing on the site.
Thanks to these initiatives and the National Fruit Collection held at Brogdale, these fruit trees will continue to be part of the living landscape.
The original research records of many of these trees is held in archives at the John Innes Centre library and can be viewed with permission. Contact the John Innes Centre’s Archivist firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.