Academic journal article Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal

Apples and Apple-Blossom Time (Wherein Jane Austen's Reputation for Meticulous Observation Is Vindicated)

Academic journal article Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal

Apples and Apple-Blossom Time (Wherein Jane Austen's Reputation for Meticulous Observation Is Vindicated)

Article excerpt

ESAPLIER APPLE TREES, baked apples, and an orchard in blossom appear in Emma. Austen introduces the apple almost incidentally as an espalier tree form providing an ornamental landscape feature at the entrance to Abbey-Mill Farm (186). We hear of the fruit as food, most notably as a gift to the Bates household (238). Observed from the grounds of Donwell Abbey, the orchard in bloom is seen as just one part of an attractive landscape (360). A reader may wonder if these instances were merely accents of background color in a picture of village life, or if they provide accurate environmental details of the time. An examination of the references leads to the conclusion that even in these small details, Jane Austen was a keen observer and accurate recorder.

Apples became a part of the agricultural landscape of Britain at the time of the Roman occupation (Morgan and Richards 23). The Normans, who invaded in 1066, brought their strong tradition of apple-growing and cider-making to the island (26). King Henry VIII, better known for his tiff with the Vatican and multiple marriages than his economic strategies, began the introduction of large-scale orchards in Kent in 1533 (46). Apple-growing was advanced again by Charles II in 1660. Demonstrating the truth of the adage that travel is educational, he returned from exile with ideas for establishing a cider industry, increasing table-fruit growing, and improving transportation networks to open the London market to regional produce (61). Apples continued as a stable crop until near the end of the eighteenth century when wheat and cattle became more profitable uses of the land. In the early nineteenth century, English farmers benefited from preferred access to local markets as a result of the Napoleonic War (1803-1815) and subsequent market protection for another two decades (106-07).

The reference to the apple as a tree in Emma occurs during Harriet Smith's brief visit to Abbey-Mill Farm in February.

   She went, however; and when they reached the farm, and she was to
   be put down, at the end of the broad, neat gravel-walk, which led
   between espalier apple-trees to the front door, the sight of every
   tiling which had given her so much pleasure the autumn before, was
   beginning to revive a little local agitation. (186)

"Espalier" refers to a method of training trees into an artistic, two-dimensional shape, supported by a wall, trellis or fence (Blume 326). The use of espalier serves to limit the amount Of space required for each tree while enhancing productivity by ensuring each branch receives optimum sunlight. At Abbey-Mill Farm, it is unlikely that space was limited, so the espalier was selected to flank the walk for esthetic reasons. With no mention of a garden wall, we can visualize this espalier trained along a trellis or fence, forming an ornamental hedge for the walk.

Espalier is a high-maintenance and, consequently, infrequently-seen style of apple growing. Careful attention to shaping and pruning must be given from the earliest growth and maintained through the life of the tree. Pruning is required as many as three or four times per year. There are a variety of patterns used. Three examples are the "Belgian Fence," which consists of inter-laced Y-shaped trees (Blume 327); the "fan," in which a number of limbs are spaced at even angles (Hamilton 283); and the "horizontal cordon," in which the tree is limited to two or three levels of horizontal branches (Blume 327). The term "espalier" is sometimes used to refer specifically to the last pattern (Morgan and Richards 296).

The selection of this border for the walk would have required knowledge of the method and choices of patterns as well as sufficient wealth to be able to devote the time required to manage the trees. It reflects a sophistication of taste, stability in the family occupying the farm for a number of years sufficient to develop the espalier, and an appreciation for creating what would be an attractive entrance to the farmhouse throughout the year. …

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