Book Reviews

We hope the following book reviews will help you to find out more about apples, orchards, and growing your own trees.

The Apple Book

by Rosie Sanders

Audience:  Gardeners
Category:  Variety selection

The original version of this book was published in 1988 and established itself as the definitive reference book for the English apple. It soon became unobtainable except on the second-hand market.

This new edition is if anything even better than the original. It benefits from a larger format, and the inclusion of about 20 new apples. This is without doubt a book for fans of English apples, but as well as the classic English varieties, many international varieties are included, such as Spartan, Cortland, Delicious, Golden Delicious, Idared, Gravenstein and many other varieties that are available in North America.

The key to this new edition, as with the original, remains the very high quality paintings. There are now 144 apples painted and described, making this book one of the best resources for apple identification.

This is a superb reference work which also showcases the inherent beauty of apples. An essential buy for anyone with an interest in English apples.

Apples for the 21st century

by Warren Manhart

Audience:  Gardeners
Category:  Variety selection

Published in 1995 Warren Manhart's book is a personal and insightful review of 50 of the best apple varieties that are available to grow in the USA. Each apple is described in considerable detail, and the author's depth of knowledge and hands-on experience shows through in every description. The style of writing is matter-of-fact but with the attention to detail born of personal familiarity with the trees and fruits. Here is an extract from his description of Cox's Orange Pippin:

My first two crops resulted in 85 percent of the apples cracking to the core and rotting. That was my first acquaintance with the frustrating genetics of Cox's Orange.

Fortunately for this and all the other varieties, the author offers a host of tips on how to get the best out of each variety.

This book will delight anyone who is growing apples in North America.

The Best Apples to Buy and Grow

by Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Audience:  Gardeners
Category:  Variety selection

A small booklet with comprehensive information about 60 different apple varieties which can be grown in North America. The apple directory makes up the bulk of the book and provides a well-informed insight into each variety.

As well as the directory of apple varieties, the book also includes a number of articles by various authors on related topics such as growing apple trees and apple cookery.

If you are thinking of establishing your own orchard this is an excellent source of ideas on which apple trees to plant.

American Horticultural Society: Pruning and Training

by Christopher Brickell and David Joyce

Audience:  Gardeners
Category:  Pruning advice

There are plenty of books about pruning and training fruit trees - but in our opinion this one of the best, and the one we usually recommend to anyone who wants to train a new fruit tree from first principles. Christopher Brickell was the Director General of the Royal Horticultural Society from 1985 to 1993, and his depth of expertise shows through in this book.

Although it covers pruning and training techniques for a wide range of trees and bushes, if you are interested in training and pruning fruit trees then it is worth buying for this section alone.

In practice, there is no substitute for learning these skills hands-on with an expert, but this book is the next best thing. The diagrams are clear, and the year-by-year tasks of forming a trained fruit tree are carefully explained.

The book covers all the forms of trained apple tree that the gardener is likely to need, including standards, bushes, cordons, fans, espaliers, and central leader forms such as the pyramid and spindlebush - the latter being very useful for the home orchardist.

The Apple Grower

by Michael Phillips

Audience:  Orchardists
Category:  Orchard design and maintenance

Michael Phillips has strong organic credentials, and the book is subtitled 'A guide for the organic orchardist'. There is a lot of passionate, hands-on, hard-won advice on growing apples the organic way. Even if you ultimately decide that the purist organic approach is not for you, the experience and insight that springs from every page in this book will help anyone who wants to grow apples in a way that works with nature.

Be warned, if you buy this book you may well end up starting your own orchard!

You can also order this book directly from Michael's website, and have your book personally inscribed.

The Backyard Orchardist: Complete Guide to Growing Fruit Trees in the Home Garden

by Stella Otto

Audience:  Anyone planning a home orchard
Category:  Orchard design and maintenance

The Backyard Orchardist sets out to describe all aspects of establishing and running a small orchard, from choosing a site to planting, harvesting, and storing the fruit. Whilst it does not cover any area in detail, it does provide a good overview of all aspects of small orchard establishment. For example the section on insect and disease control covers chemical, organic, integrated pest management and compares the strengths and weaknesses of each in a balanced way - without necessarily coming to a conclusion on which way is best.

The obvious comparison is with Michael Phillips 'The Apple Grower', which also relates the author's personal experience of starting an orchard in North America. Stella Otto does not have the crusading zeal of Michael Phillips, and after reading it you probably won't feel quite the same compulsion to go out, find a field, and start planting your own orchard. However the Backyard Orchardist is perhaps the more accessible book, the sections are more clearly designated, and the overall impression is that all the angles are covered in a solid but perhaps less exciting way.

The biggest weakness of this book is the poor quality of the diagrams, which are all black and white and not particularly well drawn. In fairness, the book is not expensive and whilst the diagrams are not particularly attractive, they are certainly clear and useable.

Overall this is a useful book, and good value. Its strength is that it covers all the topics you will need to be aware of if you are planning to start your own orchard. However it probably does not cover any of the individual topics in enough detail, so it is best seen as an introductory overview, on which you can then base further detailed research.

The New Book of Apples

by Joan Morgan and Alison Richards

Audience:  Anyone interested in the history of apples and apple varieties
Category:  Variety selection

The New Book of Apples is without doubt the most comprehensive single resource for the history of apples. The book is in two main sections. The first section covers the history of the apple in substantial detail, from its wild origins in the fruit forests of Kazakhstan, through the Greek and Roman period, middle ages, and into the modern era. The classic period of English apples in the Victorian period and the subsequent rise of interest in apples in the New World is particularly well described, along with the slow decline of English apple growing.

There is also detailed coverage of apple juice and cider, focussing on the differing directions taken in England, France, and the USA.

The second section of the Book of Apples is a directory of apple varieties, based on varieties grown at the UK National Fruit Collection at Brogdale - one of the largest living collections of apple varieties in the world. The directory gives brief details of more than 2,000 apple varieties including a great number of North American varieties as well as English and European varieties.