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Crunch time: Home-grown apples make a sweeter Christmas present than novelty gadgets


I've never been an enthusiastic shopper. Indeed, one of the delights of gardening is that you actually need very little kit to be able to do it. A box labelled 'Seeds' in which to organise your seeds (£10 from gardentrading.co.uk)? They come in nice colours – string, slate or apple green – but an old shoebox does the job just as well. An 'Apple Wizard' (£59.99 in the RHS's Christmas gift catalogue)? "No need to bend down to collect those apples which have fallen from the tree as this clever gadget will gather them up" explains the blurb. Really? Would you trek to your garden shed to fetch your Wizard when you could just bend down and pick up your windfall apple?

In the Gifts for Gardeners zone, it's a slightly desperate time of year. As consumers, gardeners surface briefly in the spring when we buy seeds and plants and fresh compost. In December, we lie low, waiting for the fake swags, electronic Christmas trees and singing reindeers to sink back into the underworld.

I'm not anti-Christmas. I love it. But I hate the way it's become swamped by shopping. I like real greenery and home-made decorations. Homemade presents too: jars of chutney, boxes of shortbread, a small, scented cyclamen re-planted in a terracotta pot, a collection of seeds gathered from a friend's garden. Or perhaps a jar of unusual honey.

If you can't face the idea of homemade, then think at least of home-grown presents. One of the best gifts I ever had at Christmas was a box of English 'Comice' pears, difficult to grow well, but one of the most wonderful fruits in the world to eat, if you can catch it just at the right time. Having a box of your own to hover over, makes this an easier proposition.

There are plenty of apples, too, that are at their best at this later season: 'Ashmead's Kernel', 'Blenheim Orange', 'Brownlees Russet', 'Claygate Pearmain', 'Laxton's Superb', 'Ribston Pippin', 'Rosemary Russet', 'William Crump'. Buy a box of apples from a farm shop (see the list overleaf – some do mail order) and decant them into a wooden trug, a basket from a charity shop, or a galvanised tub lined with sacking. Locally-grown apples will rarely cost more than £6 a tray, or from £15-£20 for a presentation box.

Where to buy Christmas apples

Berks Cross Lanes Fruit Farm, Mapledurham, Reading RG4 7UW, 01189 723167, crosslanesfruitfarm.co.uk.

Bucks Peterley Manor Farm Shop, Peterley Lane, Prestwood, Great Missenden HP16 0HH, 01494 863566, peterleymanorfarm.co.uk.

Cheshire Willington Fruit Farm, Hillside Farm, Chapel Lane, Willington, Tarporley, CW6 0PH, 01829 751216.

Devon West Lake Farm, Chilla, Beaworthy EX21 5XF, 01409 221991, west-lake.co.uk doesn't sell apples, but offers a very popular juicing service for customers.

Essex Crapes Fruit Farm, Rectory Rd, Aldham, Colchester CO6 3RR, 01206 212375. Apples sold in 7lb, 8lb, 13lb or 20lb boxes either at the farm or by mail order.

Glos Hayles Fruit Farm, Winchcombe, Cheltenham, 01242 602123, hayles-fruit-farm.co.uk.

Hants: Blackmoor Estate, Blackmoor, 01420 473782, blackmoorestate.co.uk.

Kent: Chegworth Valley Fruit Farm, Chegworth, Maidstone ME17 1DE, 01622 859272, chegworthvalley.com. Mail order only. Expect to pay £20 for a 13kg box.

Norfolk: The Apple and Pear People, Tunstead Rd, Hoveton, Wroxham NR12 8QN, 01603 783850, supply Comice pears as well as apples and can pack single variety juices alongside a box of apples.

Northants: New Creation Farm Shop, Furnace Lane, Nether Hayford, Northampton NN7 3LB, 01327 344511.

Somerset: Charlton Orchards, Charlton Rd, Creech St Michael, Taunton TA3 5PF, 01823 412959, charltonorchards.com have 'Orleans Reinette', 'Egremont Russet', 'Claygate Pearmain' and other fine late varieties; they can send by mail order.

Suffolk: Ashill Fruit Farm, Swaffham Rd, Watton IP25 7DB, 01760 440050.

Rookery Farm Shop, Tattingstone, Ipswich IP9 2LU, 01473 327220, rookeryfarm.co.uk.

Stoke Farm Orchards, Battisford, Stowmarket IP14 2NA, 01449 774944 recommend the old Essex variety 'D'Arcy Spice' for Christmas boxes.

Suffolk Heritage Orchards, The Hall, Church Hill, Monks Eleigh, Ipswich IP7 7JQ, 01449 740478, suffolkheritageorchards.co.uk. Owner George Hodgkinson reckons that 'Sturmer Pippin', a pale green lightly russetted fruit is his "strong suit" as a late-season apple.

Sussex: Laurel Tree Fruit Farms, Boar's Head, Crowborough TN6 3HD, 01892 661637.

Middle Farm, Firle, Lewes, 01323 811411, middlefarm.com.

Ringden Fruit Farm, Hurst Green, Etchingham TN19 7QY, 01580 879385, ringdenfarm.co.uk.

Tullens Fruit Farm, Tullens Pickhurst Lane, Pulborough RH20 1DA, 01798 873800, tullens.co.uk have local 'Egremont Russet' apples as well as 'Comice' pears.

Worcs: Broomfields Farm Shop, School Plantation, Holt Heath, Worcester WR6 6NF, 01905 620233, broomfieldsfarmshop.co.uk provide apples from their own orchards and a mail order service.

Walsgrove Farm, Egdon, Spetchley WR7 4QL, 01905 34571 can make up presentation boxes of home-grown apples.

Yorks: Yorkshire Orchards, White House Farm, Bolton Lane, Wilberfoss YO41 5NX, 01759 380375, yorkshireorchards.co.uk. A family-run farm – apples can be ordered through the website.