A journey in Jonathan’s conservatory of ancient apples


At first glance, the visitor is transported in another world, as if he had passed the mirror of Alice’s wonderland. Behind the mirror, the Pialligo orchard appears like granny’s loft, fully packed with treasures stored randomly in a joyful mess.

In this former commune property, on the outskirts of Canberra, Jonathan and Robyn Banks grow 60 different types of apples. He is a chemist, she is a mathematician. Among the ancient varieties, they have listed the unexpected and mysterious “pippin”, named after the kind of apple grown spontaneously from seed. Lord Lambourne is Jonathan’s favourite, but too delicate to be transported and sold in supermarkets: “a wonderful texture, juicy, beautifully aromatic with a hint of acidity.” Jonathan named a few other traditional ones: Reinette, Cox’s, Snow, Russets, Mutsu, Lady Williams, MacIntosh. For this last one, I realised that the famous computer’s company featuring an apple was named after an American variety apple tree!

Jonathan has a story for each one of them. This property hosts a total of a thousand trees with no two looking similar and 33 rose plants. Some typical varieties of automn fruit, but also the very difficult to find mirabelle, reine-claude, the rare unusual medlar, quinces, feijoas and a few more thrive in this Eden Park where Cockatoos like to feast. “We let the tree get big, so that Cockatoos can only get the fruit which are on the surface on the top of the tree, but not the ones which are deeper in the branches. The height of the grass creates a welcoming environment for predators like frogs and lizards, which are useful to get rid of fruit pests”, explains Jonathan.

Surprisingly, despite the exceptionally wet season that has spoilt part of some vineyards, the apple crop was unexpectedly generous this 2012 season. “The cockatoos leave us far enough with a crop of about 30 tons of apples” It is late in the season and almost the last days for the later varieties. Jonathan has just put away his stall set in front of the orchard.

However, very soon, he will lead a special grafting workshop to show how to grow your own tree. “Customers ask to purchase their favourite apple tree, but I have to decline as I only grow apples. So, I thought about this workshop. Grafting is easy. There are a few tricks you should know, but not many. (see events)

I asked him: “So do you talk to the trees ?” He answered: “I do, and sometimes quite seriously. If one does not give any fruit, I come at it with an axe. Sure it works. Next season it will give fruit.”

Pialligo Orchard, 10 Beltana Road, Canberra 02 6765 5633

About frenchozzie

I have been working in a daily Newspaper in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, amidst vineyards, close to the Olympic Games headquarters in Lausanne, and amongst world class gourmet restaurants in a land with breathtaking views of the Alps. But now I am here in Australia for good.
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