Fruit Forum

Christmas Pippin: a winner?

Christmas Pippin
Christmas Pippin

Christmas Pippin is a new apple variety introduced in 2010. It is crisp, juicy and sweet with a good, rich taste and surely destined to become widely popular. Christmas Pippin is a chance seedling, like many other well known apples, and in this case we have a detailed history of its discovery and introduction by Geoffrey Rowson, who found it near a motorway.

Original tree growing beside M5 motorway
Original tree growing beside M5 motorway

Early in September 2003 I noticed colourful fruit on a possible seedling tree growing beside the M5 motorway in Somerset. Later I collected samples of the fruit which was an attractive red/yellow colour and of a good flavour. For sampling later fruit was stored in a cardboard tray outside under a lean-to roof, then in a garage. By 8 December the fruit had developed an excellent aromatic flavour and was still sweet and juicy, though beginning to wrinkle somewhat. It seemed a good apple and I decided to explore this discovery further. Samples were sent to Nick Dunn of Frank P. Matthew's Nursery at Tenbury Wells in Worcestershire and to the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale in Kent.

There was a positive response. On 8 January 2004 the National Fruit Collection curator, Dr Emma-Jane Lamont wrote that they were ‘impressed by its flavour’, while Joan Morgan, who had been shown the apple on a visit to Brogdale ‘described it as a worthwhile apple and a possible winner’. Encouraged by this feedback, I collected graftwood from the original tree beside the motorway and on 18 January posted these to the F. P Matthew's Nursery, who grafted some trees on M9 rootstock . The following year, in February/March 2005, I received a young tree, which I planted in my garden. This began to fruit, leading me to explore the possibility of names for my chance seedling. I had in mind either Winter Beauty or Christmas Pippin and wrote to Dr Lamont in January 2007 to see if these were unique names for an apple. She replied that neither appeared to have been used previously used nor were they listed in the National Apple Register. Christmas Pippin was to be its name.

The following October, I paid another visit to the original tree and met the occupier of an adjacent field, a long-term resident of the area. He told me that, once, orchards had stood in this area , which probably rules out the idea that the tree was a seedling from a core thrown out from a passing car. It was more likely to have sprung up from a windfall apple in the original orchard.

My first reasonable crop of apples in 2008 from the grafted tree amounted to about 17 lbs of fruit, that is the third year from planting in the winter of 2004/5. It seemed that Christmas Pippin could have some potential. I transferred its ownership F. P. Matthews Ltd, who began the process of applying for Plant Breeders Rights for the variety. Then in 2010, Matthew's gave sole marketing rights to Marshall's of Huntingdon who advertised it on the internet. Matthew's also arranged for it to be included in a trial of fruit varieties organised by BIFGA (British Independent Fruit Growers Association) planted on three sites: FAST (Farm Advisory Services Team) trials at Brogdale Farm, Kent, Hadlow College, Kent, and Royal Horticultural Society Gardens Wisley. Christmas Pippin is now one of 38 other varieties on trial with the aim of assessing their suitability for commercial fruit growers and, through the slightly smaller planting at Wisley, for amateur gardeners. Matthew's have now put Christmas Pippin on general release to garden centres.

Meanwhile, I treated my garden tree as if I was a ‘good amateur’ - giving it an annual mulch of garden compost together with a dressing of Growmore 7:7:7 fertiliser in spring and an occasional annual dressing of some organic fertiliser, for example, dried poultry manure pellets. No fungicide sprays were used until 2011, when I used a single anti-mildew spray as a few shoot tips were affected in the very dry spell. An occasional insecticide was needed to control general aphis attack early in the season; one year rosy apple aphid was present. Little or no signs of either codling moth, apple sawfly or capsid bug have appeared, despite the presence in the garden of old Bramley trees which do show signs of attack. It also appears, so far, to be scab-free, more or less.

Christmas Pippin 'maypoled' to preserve branches
Christmas Pippin 'maypoled' to preserve branches

The tree flowers very prolifically each year on maiden, second year wood as well as on spurs etc. Full flower was 22 April in 2009 and 5 May in 2010, coinciding with many other well known varieties, such as Cox’ Orange Pippin. Everything seems to set, hence the need for thorough thinning to get good fruit size. Pruning has involved initially cutting the leader by about a third to develop a good centre leader. Side branches were cut back as necessary to promote a general ‘A’ structure. By 2011 the tree was 2.6 metres high x 1.8 metres broad at the base of the branch system.

My own monitoring of the tree records the following crops and comments.

2008: 17 lbs of fruit.

2009: 25 lbs of fruit from first and second pick between 25 September and second week October.

Slight attack of apple scab on two fruits and single leaf cluster.

2010: 45 lbs of fruit.

Severe south-east gale snaps the stake and, loaded with fruit, the tree falls over. Re-staked and righted the tree; very few roots damaged or pulled out of the ground. Enforced ‘salvage’ picked of fruit of 45 lbs - small wonder that the stake broke.

2011: 53 lbs fruit

Thinned fruitlets twice to ones and twos per cluster.

1 July - forced to ‘maypole’ the branches as crop too heavy, despite thinning.

3 October - picked ‘ready to come’ fruit

11 October - second pick to total of 53 lbs!

Fruit was medium sized on average and graded out at 26.8% of the crop measuring 60-65 mm in diameter and 22.3% 70-75mm across.

Christmas Pippin may well turn out to be success, though only time will tell.

Geoffrey Rowson