Q&A with Naomi Slade, Author of ‘An Orchard Odyssey’

By Shelley Pierce | April 30, 2017
Image by Green Books
by Shelley Pierce
April 30, 2017

Naomi Slade is the author of An Orchard Odyssey (Green Books, 2016) and The Plant Lover’s Guide to Snowdrops (Timber Press 2014). A lifelong natural historian, graduate biologist, former rock band manager and apple-juice entrepreneur, she has won prizes for designing both carnival floats and show gardens.  Her award-winning writing has featured in a wide range of newspapers and magazines including The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Financial Times, House and Garden, The Garden and The English Garden. She has covered gardens in France as well as the UK and contributed editorial on both sides of the Atlantic.  Her latest book, An Orchard Odyssey, is a resource for fruit-lovers everywhere. Packed with inspirational ideas and practical advice, it shows how orchard living can be incorporated into every lifestyle, no matter how busy or short of space you are.  Read on for more information about this Green Books publication and find out below how to win one of five copies!

Green books would also like to offer our readers a special discount! Use discount code


from 4/30/17 – 5/7/17 on their website www.greenbooks.co.uk and receive 35% off the recommended retail price and free post and packaging in the UK.

1. How did you develop a love of orchards?  And which orchard fruit variety in particular have you fallen in love with and why?

I have always felt a connection to orchards, ever since I was very young. My father’s family were keen gardeners from Somerset and I still hear stories about picking and storing fruit, and reminiscences about favorite apple trees and their almost mythical properties.

I like all tree fruit, but I am particularly fond of apples. In recent years I have been restoring old orchards and planting new trees at my family’s small farm in Wales. I now have over 100 named varieties of apple, including lots of heritage fruit and a number of Welsh varieties!


2. Why are orchards so vital?

Orchards are important in all sorts of ways. They can be a community hub or a source of employment, they are a local source of food that is easy to engage with and they can be used to teach all sorts of things – history, pruning, bee-keeping.

They are also very good at reflecting the traditions of an area and, as such, are a key player in preserving the identity of a region. But, fundamentally, they are lovely and make life a better place for their neighbors!


3. Small traditional fruit orchards are under threat.  In the book’s forward, James Wong states that “fruit trees are mistakenly seen as being too big, too complex and unrewarding for modern gardeners”.  How does your book change that perception?

Well, firstly I bust the myth that fruit trees are huge. The ultimate size of a tree depends on what variety it is and its root-stock, so you can easily choose a tree that will fit your garden with an informed approach to shopping and a bit of research.

I also offer suggestions and illustrations as to how the trees can be incorporated into existing gardens and planting schemes, adding beauty and structure as well as being a source of tasty fruit. For me, it is about looking at them in a different way, about having an enabled and accessible perspective.

There is an idea that they are too technical for the ordinary novice gardener, but as I say to people all the time – get started. Plant, grow, make mistakes – all good gardeners make mistakes and learn from them and the important thing is to get growing.


4. How does this book help the reader to plan, plant and maintain an orchard on any scale?

An Orchard Odyssey encourages people to start from where they are and be honest about who they are and what they want out of it. It outlines choosing trees of various sizes, pruning and training and ongoing maintenance – but there are books that cover this in much more depth and I encourage people to read beyond my own work.

What I do is propose a new, personal engagement in the subject. I aim to inspire and enthuse, excite people about their orchard possibilities and set out on their own journey. If I can get them to fall in love, then anything is possible!


5. In writing this, what wonderful facts or nuggets of joy about orchards did you uncover?

I loved writing this book, the trees and their heritage give me so much pleasure and when I am in an orchard I feel incredibly well-connected with the landscape.

One of the things that I particularly enjoyed was finding out more about how fruit trees originated in the Tien Shan mountains of Kazakhstan and from there, managed to migrate all over the world. The story of their journey to the Americas is fascinating and the way in which they traveled west with the pioneers; I loved finding out about the local varieties and traditions and how the rise and fall of the orchard mirrored that in Europe.

I also discovered some cool new recipes! The old ways of preserving fruit in Europe are interesting and each region has its own traditions – like Stroop which is a kind of thick jammy fruit paste, and rumtopf which preserves fruit in a rich alcoholic syrup as it ripens in sequence through the year.


6. What advice do you have for the first-time orchard grower?

Take a good look at the space you have for your trees, your soil and how much sun the site gets. This will influence what varieties you can go for – some fruit such as pears and peaches like a sunny site, apples and sour cherries will take more shade. It will also help you work out what root-stock you can go for: this will determine the ultimate size of the tree. It is important not to plant a tree that will outgrow its space in just a few years, so if your plot is fairly small pick a tree that is grafted onto a dwarfing root stock.

After that, think about what you like to eat! What is your favorite fruit or favorite variety? You will have a long and hopefully happy relationship with your fruit tree so it is best to choose something you find really tasty.

Above all, get started and enjoy the ride!


Naomi Slade’s new book An Orchard Odyssey is published by Green Books and available from online retailers and good bookshops.

WIN ONE OF FIVE COPIES OF “An Orchard Odyssey“!

To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post by midnight on Sunday, May 7, 2017 (be sure to provide a valid e-mail address) in answer to the following question:

What fruit trees are you interested in growing?

Be sure to include a valid e-mail address. The winner will be drawn at random from all qualified entrants, and notified via e-mail. (See rules for more information.)

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