Friday, 26 February 2016

Cultivating a Great Vine


Anyone familiar with Henry VIII's Palace of Hampton Court on the outskirts of London will know about the Great Vine. It's one of the oldest grape vines in the world and the longest. Most impressively of all it's still highly productive at 240+ years old.


It is a Black Hamburg variety of table grape and was planted in 1769 under the watchful eye of Capability Brown. The plant at Hampton Court was propagated by cutting from a vine growing at Valentines Mansion in Essex which had been planted somewhat earlier in the decade. Today it averages a crop of around 275 kg, has a trunk measuring 4 metres around and stretches for 36.5 metres. The Great Vine has been cossetted from its very earliest days, with its own greenhouse, regular fertilising and careful pruning. The job of Keeper of the Vine is full time and she lives on site.


Our own humble vine, also a Black Hamburg, has no chance of reaching the sort of dimensions or lifespan of the Hampton Court Vine. However, it was planted for similar reasons perhaps twenty or thirty years ago. Black Hamburg may be an old fashioned type of table grape, with small fruits and large seeds, but it was planted for its tasty honey flavoured grapes and its generous productivity. Even if our vine is a mere tiddler compared to the Great Vine, it regularly gives more grapes than we quite know what to do with.
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Loire Valley Nature: A new entry has been added for the uncommon Autumn Squill Scilla autumnalis.
A new entry has been added for Beech Fagus sylvatica, surprisingly rare in the Touraine Loire Valley.

6 comments:

  1. What the hell do they do with all those grapes...
    supply Fortnum & Mason's?
    But it does show how a good pollarding regime conserves a tree...
    you can't really call it a vine anymore at those dimensions!!
    I would love to see a graph of the produtivity over time!!
    And I wonder if other things kept it company until it pushed them out...greenhouses were very valuable spaces when it was planted.

    Yes, you commented on the Beech being rare... it is really replaced here by the more tolerant Hornbeam which can outgrow a beech quite easily. When I started as a forester, they had a Hornbeam problem at one edge of Burnham Beeches... and were having to remove them.... a neighbouring landowner had planted hornbeam as a faster growing beech substitute.
    The Commission tried a mixed Hornbeam/Beech plantation just after the war somewhere in Surrey... by 1970 it was a Hornbeam plantation! Hornbeam is strong and hard and good for construction... but it has a wiggly grain and splits wiggly as a result... beech is straight grained and splits straight.... and thus is very good for furniture... it also responds to steaming better than any other tree so less energy is used... it is more like hazel for suppleness.

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    1. Beech is abundant throughout France, except in Indre et Loire, Loir et Cher and the Mediterranean plain. Hornbeam definitely takes its place here. Apparently Beech was primarily used for cartmaking here. One of the mysteries we have to solve with the Red Helleborine research is why they thrive here when Beech doesn't.

      The grapes from the Great Vine are sold to the public. The original greenhouse was build to house the vine. It has since been replaced as it was on the point of collapse, but I don't think the vine had to share the space.

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  2. Now I'll have to put Hampton Court back on my bucket list. I was there many years ago, as a callow student, and all I remember of the grounds is that the maze looked rather ratty.
    But that is some impressive grapevine, indeed. Yours looks pretty good, too.

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    1. Hampton Court is an absolute must see, and remember that the Tudor part is exactly contemporary with Chenonceau. I have spent a lot of time at Hampton Court and it is fabulous.

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  3. It would be lovely to think that Mr & Mrs Brown saw the potential in their son when he was christened but their thoughts were perhaps on a future knighthood!

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    1. It is a curious name, isn't it? His older brothers had good solid names like William and George. One does wonder what his parents were thinking of and why they chose Lancelot. It does seem a bit random. Perhaps it was just that they struggled to name a fifth child and went a bit crazy. I see that he named one of his own sons Lancelot too (or II...), but that's perhaps more understandable.

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