On this walk, we make our way through Gamble Garden to visit its 15 cultivars and nearly 40 individual apple trees. Our tour works equally well taken from your armchair at home or loaded onto your phone and accompanying you as you follow the route at Gamble Garden. During this walk, you will learn all about apples: their appearance, their variety, their botany and especially their history - all within our garden. It will take about 30-45 mins to see all of the trees on the tour. We hope you enjoy it!
Gamble Garden volunteers and staff developed this self-guided walk for an August 2020 Second Saturday program, providing text and photos.
The beauty and inspiration of the Gamble Garden exist for all visitors to enjoy. Please leave flowers and plants just as they are. Do not pick or collect seeds, flowers, fruits and vegetables, leaves or plant labels. Stay on the paths or mowed lawns. Pack in/pack out your own trash and recycling. Thank you!
Please note: Gamble Garden's current COVID-19 policy requires masks and social distancing. During this period, the garden is closed to the public on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings.
The Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden Apple Walk begins at the sundial, located in the Allée, entered across from the front right side of the house.
Gamble Garden has set up a one-way route for making sure that you can explore all of the apple trees in a socially-distanced and safe manner.
To catch the start of the route, orient yourself here at the front of the Gamble house and enter the allée at the sundial. The route will continue in a one-way direction to the end of the allee, go around the rose garden then transit the Carriage House patio, walking past the bathrooms (which are currently closed) to the Green Lattice Fence espalier.
You’ll find the first group of heirloom apple trees here. The second group of apple cultivars make up our ”living fence” and extend around orchard and along the parking lot. For the last grouping of apples you will go to a rarely visited part of Gamble next to the lawn bowling club driveway.
Turn right on the path into the allée and stop at the sundial, facing the fountain.
The allée is a formal garden design element originated in France. The French verb aller means “to go.” Here is a place I like to visit every time I come to Gamble – it is a path leading to a focal point with symmetrical plantings on either side. And you see here the stars of the allée are the two rows of young crabapple trees on either side of the path.
These trees are the Sugar Tyme crabapple cultivar. Let’s examine them closely. What do you notice? The fruit color is green with a blush of red, at the end of each is a remnant of blossom, each miniature apple dangles at the end of its own stem, the fruits appear in clusters encircled by bright green leaves. What else do you notice? I notice the narrow trunks are painted white. Why do you think that is? Like us, when we put white zinc on our noses when we go the beach – to protect against sunburn!
Now notice this picture taken in the spring. Look at the proportion of flowers to leaves here, compared to the summer photo!
Continue to the end of the allée and enter the rose garden adjacent on the right.
While apples are fleshy fruits with seeds, you might be surprised to learn they have more in common with rose bushes than with avocados, kiwis or even tomatoes.* Apples – like pears, quince and peaches – are part of the very large Rose family, Rosaceae.
We can see some of the immediate similarities by looking at their flowers:
Wild roses and their close descendants have five petals just as the apple blossom does. In fact, except for color, the five-petal rose is nearly indistinguishable from an apple blossom. Here we see Rosa “Golden Wings” next to an apple blossom. The flowers also have many pollen-bearing filaments called stamens – which surround a central structure that leads to the eggs or ovules.
Now take a look at the fruit of the rose – yes, roses have fruits, too – called rose hips. Rose hips have a few seeds surrounded by a tasty flesh, just like apples do:
What are some of the differences you notice?
* Italians call the tomato “pomodoro,” meaning “golden apple” — referring to the first Italian tomatoes which were golden yellow in color with an apple-like shape. And the French called tomatoes “pommes d’amour” – “love apples”. Even still the two are not related; apples come from central Asia, tomatoes are from the Americas.
After walking around the rose garden, take the north exit and transit the Carriage House patio, walking past the bathrooms (currently closed) all the way to the Greenhouse. Enter the Roots & Shoots section of the garden on your left, and on your immediate right you will find the Green Lattice Fence espalier.
Espalier is a method of training and pruning a tree or shrub, forcing it to grow flat against a wall or a free-standing trellis. It originated in the Middle Ages as a way to grow fruit inside the safety of castle walls.
As you see here, an espalier has a great deal of ornamental value — few garden scenes are more stunning than a blooming apple tree growing against a brick wall — and it’s also an effective technique for producing an ample crop of easily accessible fruit in a small space. No ladders needed.
A favorite Second Saturday way of thinking about plants is to think about the six plant parts: roots, stem, leaves, flower, fruit, and seeds.
Let’s take a closer look at the trunk. This photo shows how a scion (a strong shoot from a parent tree) is grafted onto dwarf rootstock. Can you see the graft site? How would you describe the stem (trunk)? And why would Gamble Garden have chosen to use dwarf rootstock?
In grafting, a branch from a tree with desirable characteristics is mated to the root of another tree. Examine the process described in these pictures.
Although apple seeds grow easily, apple trees cannot self-pollinate. All alone they are unable to breed the same variety for the next generation. Grafting solves this problem and allows the same variety to carry on to the next generation. It’s also a way to propagate a cultivar using a rootstock better adapted to local soil conditions. With grafting it’s even possible to grow many varieties on one tree:
Leaves are underappreciated! They make food for the tree via photosynthesis, providing the plant with energy for vegetative growth and reproductive growth.
Let’s look closely at the leaves of an apple tree. They are dark green, arranged in an alternating pattern, and have one leaf per stem. The leaf edges are jagged or serrated. Why do you think this is so?
If you have your Garden Guide magnifying glass, take a look at the veins of the leaf, and turn the leaf over to examine its slightly downy, whitish underside. The overall shape is like an egg, with a rounded base and pointed tip.
Remember the rose flowers? Now let’s closely observe the flower of the apple tree (visible “live” in the springtime).
Now look again at the baby leaves – small, chartreuse (a color between yellow and green), and fuzzy young leaves.
Remember why flowers are important?
As in the rose flower above, flowers attract pollinators like bees and birds to pick up pollen – and some tasty nectar. They will in turn fertilize the other plants they visit. Pollinators allow immobile plants – like apple trees – to fertilize at a distance.
Different cultivars bloom at different times in the spring, affecting the timing of the ripening of the fruit. A gentlewoman’s orchard might strive to have apples coming ripe over a period of several months from summer to late October to extend the apple season.
Apple fruits come from apple flowers. It’s fascinating to see how the fruit relates to its original flower:
The cross-section of the apple flower on the left is reflected in the slice of the apple fruit on the right. You can see the remains of the apple flower’s sepals, stamens and styles at the end of the fruit, as well as its stem or peduncle at the other end. As the pollen finds its way to the stigma down to the flower’s ovary, it fertilizes the ovule (egg), which then becomes a seed inside the fruit. The flesh of the fruit is created by the ovary in the parent flower – and keeps the parent’s characteristics.
As apple blossoms are clustered, so will be the fruits. I think back to every child’s crayon drawing of an apple tree…a polka dot pattern of red fruits. The variation in the clustering of apples on the trees at Gamble is particularly beautiful to see!
Wouldn’t it be a fun activity to ask your child or grandchild to draw an apple tree before and after a visit to Gamble Garden!
A cultivar is a plant variety created through breeding to emphasize certain features. Which features of apple trees do you like? Some people like sweet-flavored fruit, others sour. Some like green- and yellow-colored fruit, others pink and red. Some folks like hard, crisp apples, others prefer softer flesh. Some apple tree owners like big trees with lots of fruit, others with less space (like Gamble) need smaller trees with smaller yields. There are over 7,500 cultivars of apples bred for various tastes and uses, including cooking, eating raw, applesauce and cider production.
An heirloom is a traditional plant variety, selectively bred by apple growers of former generations and typically not produced by current large-scale agriculture. All of our heirloom apples are well-labeled, and so we recommend that you select one to read up on and visit it each time you go to Gamble. Then you will see it change through the seasons – the apples will ripen, the leaves will begin to yellow then fall, the tree will be beautifully bare through the winter, and if you keep visiting, maybe, just maybe you will be there when the tree puts out its first new leaf buds, and its first fleeting flower buds.
Here is a list of our apple cultivars along the Green Lattice Fence espalier, many of them heirlooms. Notice that the labels begin with Malus domestica – which in Latin means “an apple that has been bred” or domesticated – followed by the cultivar type in single quotation marks:
Do you recognize any of these varieties? What do you think makes each of them unique or different from than the others?
We see here three views of the Newtown Pippin – one of many exceptional heirloom apples at Gamble. The Newtown Pippin originated on the Long Island estate of Gershom Moore in 1759 and is still cultivated today on a small scale.
Let’s observe closely. It is often russeted around the stem. Russeting is a brownish, corky or netlike texture. Russet apples often exhibit a scent and flavor reminiscent of nuts, and are often very sweet and contain higher amounts of phytonutrients beneficial to human health.
The flesh of the Newtown Pippin is yellow and crisp. Its flavor is complex and somewhat tart, requiring storage to develop properly; some sources suggest it has a piney aroma.
This variety originated as a chance seedling (or a “pippin”) and soon was widely grown and praised in colonial America, with Thomas Jefferson writing from Paris that “they have no apples here to compare with our Newtown Pippin.” Queen Victoria favored this apple so much that she exempted the American cultivar from British import tax.
Originally grown as a dessert apple, it is now used commercially primarily for cider.
In modern times, the Newtown Pippin has been eclipsed by the Granny Smith, which is more handsome and not as susceptible to russeting.
It’s interesting how all apples are related and yet can be so different.
Also originating from New York state, the Spitzenburg cultivar (late 1700s, Esopus in the Hudson Valley) was reputed to be another favorite of Thomas Jefferson, who ordered a dozen trees for his gentleman’s orchard at Monticello. Some have called it the “king of the apples”; one advantage is that its flavor actually gets better in storage.
Cox’s Orange Pippin is a classic English apple and considered one of the finest dessert apples. It is beloved for the range and complexity of its flavors and its orange-red color. It has been said that this variety tastes and looks different in northern California than in southern England. Why do you think that might be?
At the northern end of the Green Lattice Fence espalier look to your right: there you will find the “Living Fence” growing around our small orchard.
The following cultivars may be found here:
You might recognize some of these names – such as ‘Fuji’, ‘Granny Smith’ and even ‘Pink Pearl’. Why do you think we grow them and why do you think you can find them in the supermarket? Would these be considered heirloom varieties?
Around the corner on the northern fence of the orchard you can find
We provide some backstory on a few more Gamble cultivars below and encourage you to observe each one closely.
A popular hybrid developed in Japan in the 1930s and brought to market in 1962, the Fuji apple is a cross between the Red Delicious and Rawls Jennet varieties.
It is named after the town of Fujisaki where it was developed. These trees have been formed into an espalier which allows growing in a tight location as well as more heat, if oriented next to a building, and maximum sunlight if oriented parallel to the equator.
Surely you have heard of ‘Granny Smith’ apples, one of the most popular in this country. Its origins might surprise you: it indeed comes from Grandma Maria Ann Smith’s backyard – in Australia. A chance seedling or happy accident thought to be a hybrid of the European wild crabapple Malus sylvestris and the domesticated Malus pumila, it is favored for its crisp, juicy flesh and tart flavor.
Follow the “Living Fence” around the corner to the right.
Here you will find the Hauer Pippin, a fascinating local heirloom, also from a chance seedling. This hybrid of the Cox’s Orange Pippin and Yellow Bellflower was discovered growing in Santa Cruz in the 1890s. It is known for its green color with a dark red blush and prominent white spots, a balanced flavor, and a late harvest, earning it the nickname “Christmas Apple.” The tree is particularly resistant to local insects and diseases – why do you think that is?
Another “Christmas Apple” here is from a very different time and place: the Lady apple, cultivated in France around 1600, said to have been discovered in the forest of Api in Bretagne. Why do you think this variety of apple is so widely known and popular to this day?
Human beings have always played an important role in the spread and propagation of apples. Malus domestica originated from the wild Malus sieversii on the western slopes of the Tian Shan Mountains in Central Asia and was domesticated at least as early as the third millennium BCE in China. Its many cultivars spread via trade to the Middle East and Europe, where they freely self-hybridized with local varieties of crabapple, Malus sylvestris. Cultivars were developed, often by leisured landowner collectors who practiced grafting as a hobby. A “gentleman’s garden” might be curated for personal use but more importantly reflected the owner’s educated status and access to multiple sources from around the globe.
The spread of the apple along America’s early frontier in Pennsylvania, Ontario, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois was indeed due to a real person named John Chapman (1774-1845), better known as Johnny Appleseed. He was a kind and generous man, who planted nurseries and protected them from livestock by building fences around them. (Contrary to popular belief, Johnny Appleseed did not scatter seeds randomly nor did he create orchards. He was also against grafting.) He would move westward and return to tend his nurseries every year or two. At the time of his death, Johnny Appleseed had started tens of thousands of trees – although there is some discussion as to whether apples were cultivated for their fruit – which could be stored for a long time – or for their ability to create alcoholic cider.
Fruit trees have many more flowers in springtime than mature fruit during harvest. In fact, if 100 percent of the blossoms on an apple tree turned into big, ripe apples, it would likely break all of the tree’s branches with the weight. This is one of the reasons gardeners thin out fruit. It is a process of reducing the clusters of small, immature fruit in order to give the healthiest fruit room to grow and mature. According to experts, only one in 10 apple tree blossoms should be permitted to turn into fruit.
Mother Nature does this thinning process also via the “June drop,” shedding a good deal of fruit to give the remaining fruit room to grow. Don’t be alarmed, as apple trees naturally “drop” many of their apples to ensure the remaining ones can mature into full-size, juicy fruit.
Look down: do you notice the June drop?
Apples ripen via the hormone ethylene – and this process can take a very long time, meaning apples can be stored in a cool environment, such as a root cellar, for consumption a few months later. Even fallen, slightly rotten apples can be used for cider and apple brandy. In the Rosaceae family there are cousins of the apple that can only be enjoyed when they over-ripen to become sweet enough to eat, such as the medlar, quince and the sorb “apple”.
Take a few steps to the east until you hit the lawn bowling club driveway. There you will find a half dozen large crabapple trees along the Gamble border.
Robinson crabapples standing at the northeastern end of the Gamble property.
The Robinson Crabapple is a deciduous tree whose crimson buds open to beautiful red-pink flowers in early spring. Be sure to watch this crabapple during autumn as the leaves turn gold setting off the red fruits, then fall to the ground leaving only the red apple clusters cheerfully decorating the bare branches. Notice how the sunlight shines through the leaves, illuminating the veins and stems which are red (unlike the allée’s Sugar Tyme, which are green.) Notice readily visible blossom remnant.
What’s the difference between a crabapple and an apple anyway? Because of so many centuries of cross-hybridization, crabapple Malus sylvestris and apple Malus domestica are mostly distinguished today by size: fruit of more than 8 cm in diameter is considered an apple. Although apples are generally less acidic and considered more edible than crabapples, palatable varieties of crabapple exist while some low-sugar (and sour) apples are rather used for cider and fodder.
Colonists favored American native crabapples as rootstock for grafting such that by 1830 56% of American apple varieties had mixed with them. Crabapples are popular for their spring bloom, decorative fall leaves, high pectin content (for setting jams and jellies), vitamin C, and folk medicine applications.
What kept the fearsome Viking gods young and strong? Eating golden apples provided by the goddess of youth, Iðunn. Until Loki, the trickster, sneakily took the precious apples to the giants. The fury of the gods so terrified Loki that he transformed into a falcon, swooped down, and snatched back the apples from the enraged giants!
Even Hercules, the Greek hero with superhuman strength, put his life in grave danger to steal three golden apples from the garden of the Hesperides. He had to battle a ferocious god of war, kill a monstrous man-eating eagle, fight a dragon with one hundred heads, lift on his shoulders the entire world, and much more!
Closer to our time and place, when the Gamble family moved to Palo Alto in 1902, they wanted to plant an orchard in the rear of the property, partially for the fruit and partially for experimentation. Such “backyard orchards” were popular at the time, and the initial fruit trees included some apples, as well as apricots, pears, and plums – although we do not know the varieties. In 1992-1993, Gamble Garden staff planted the current apple trees, with local nurseries helping to select cultivars appropriate for this environment and climate.
Did you know you can become a “pomologist“? These experts study fruits, including (especially) the apple. If you’d like to learn more, specialist suppliers can provide a wealth of knowledge about apple heirlooms. Now that you’ve taken this tour, you are likely to come across apples more and more, given their history and significance, as well as in food and drink.
Thank you for joining us for August Second Saturday.
You can find more apple-related “At Home” and “At Gamble” Activities on gamblegarden.org.
We look forward to hearing your questions and comments by email at [email protected].
Photos courtesy of Matthew Buynoski, Doug Kalish, Mary Powell, Flickr (license) and Shutterstock, unless otherwise attributed. Map courtesy of Nature Communications, 8:249, 2017.