Fruit Forum

Howard Stringer (1923-2012)

Photo - see caption
Howard Stringer

With great sadness we inform visitors to this web-site of the death of Howard Stringer on 24 February 2012 aged 89 years. Howard’s last contribution to Fruit Forum was to the Blog where he wrote about the Uttwiler Spätlauber apple, a native of Uttwil in the Swiss canton of Thurgau. Though little known, it has exceptional keeping quality, never wrinkling in store, an attribute which is now being exploited by the cosmetics industry as an ingredient of anti-ageing cream. This charming combination of fact, curiosity and inquiry characterised Howard’s writings and his rich knowledge of fruit backed by many years of practical experience.

By profession, Howard was an engineer, but even as a child he had been interested in growing fruit. Howard bought his first fruit tree when only eleven years old from the proceeds of a paper round; he gave half of his earnings to his mother and used the remainder to buy a pear tree. While he was away during the war years his mother kept him informed of its progress, when it flowered and how much fruit it produced; the tree still grows in the garden of his childhood home. At his own family home in Send, near Woking, Surrey, over the past thirty five years or so, Howard built up an extensive fruit collection in an acre of garden. Cherries were a particular passion, and he also grew apples, pears and soft fruits. The village of Send is just around the corner from the Royal Horticultural Society’s Wisley Garden, where Howard became very familiar with the Society’s fruit collection and a member of the RHS Fruit Group, serving on its committee for many years. He also joined East Malling’s ‘Research Association’ and here too Howard became a valued participant in debates and discussions.

As well as being interested in the technicalities of fruit cultivation, Howard delighted in exploring a wide range of varieties. The apple Finkenwerder Prinz that arose on the island of Finkenwerder in the Alte Land near Hamburg was one he grew and he even facilitated its introduction to North America. As a result of his writings championing its virtues, Howard was contacted by another enthusiast Eckart Brandt, who had a large collection of old varieties growing outside Hamburg that included Finkenwerder Prinz, which is well suited to the high summer rainfall of the Alte Land and resistant to scab. Howard was able to put amateur fruit growers in Seattle in search of a scab resistant variety for their rainy climate in touch with Brandt and Finkenwerder Prinz found a new home in Washington. Howard was fluent in German and he understood Dutch and Flemish, which allowed him to establish many contacts on the continent with individuals and societies. He communicated with the great German pomologist the late Herbert Petzold and thus relayed to English readers the story of how the Frau Mieze Schindler strawberry acquired its unusual name - ‘Mieze’ is the German term by which you beckon a cat and the equivalent of ‘puss, puss’; we reprint below Howard’s account.

It is through Howard that the UK enjoys such close relations with Belgium’s fruit community, that is via the leading society Nationale Boomgaarden Stichting (NBS) and his friendship with Daniel Willaeys who runs an organic fruit enterprise near Antwerp. The connection was cemented in October 1993 when Howard and his wife Elisabeth, along with the late Bob Sanders and his wife Pam, took an exhibit from the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale to Europom; a spectacular pan-European fruit show invented by the NBS and then held only in Belgium. Now Europom is staged throughout Europe, Jim Arbury and the RHS take exhibits every year to different countries and in 2010 Europom came to Wisley.

Of all Howard’s fruit activities, his greatest interest was probably Brogdale and the National Fruit Collection. Through the ups and downs since 1990 Howard and Elisabeth were loyal supporters, contributing enormously in so many ways. When the Ministry of Agriculture’s experimental station, the National Fruit Trials at Brogdale, Kent, was closed by the Thatcher government in 1989/90 and the security of its unique fruit collection threatened, Howard was among the many fruit lovers concerned as to its fate and again in 2007 when there was the possibility that the National Fruit Collection, as it had become known, might be moved from Brogdale to another site. But public pressure again ensured that it remained at Brogdale.

As many readers will know, the whole Brogdale site was bought in 1990 by the Brogdale Horticultural Trust and then in 2000 by HillReed Land. The land and buildings passed into private hands, but the Collection remained in the ownership of the Ministry (now Defra), which holds a long lease on the land, and Defra provides the funding for its maintenance and curatorship. The first holders of this Defra contract were Wye College and the Trust, which opened up the Collection to the public for the first time in 1990. Howard became involved in this engagement with visitors as a member of the Friends organisation and one of the ‘experts’ dispensing advice on fruit cultivation, particularly at the fruit events and festivals. Howard was an excellent communicator and he also produced many articles for Fruit News as well as other publications. He continued to be an active member of the Friends of the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale until last year, when he was still writing articles.

We will all miss him very much.

Joan Morgan


Frau Mieze Schindler Strawberry

The name ‘Mieze’ is a trifle odd, as it is the name by which you call a cat in German, or as we would say ‘puss, puss’. It turns out that the wife of the raiser Professor Schindler always wore a fur drape, which to the little son of the Head Gardener looked very much like a cat. Indeed he used to greet the lady with a polite ‘Good Day, Frau Mieze’. Professor Schindler was so taken by this little boy’s naive remark that he called the strawberry after his wife’s nickname. BUT - how the variety ever got released is another anecdote. Professor Schindler did not like his new seedling at all. Firstly the flowers, like ‘Pandora’, 70 years later, were male sterile, the berries were small and of an unappealing claret colour. So he ordered the plant to be destroyed. The Head Gardener found the plants on the compost heap. Now he knew that whatever the commercial characteristics of the variety were, those berries had a superlative flavour, so he pleaded with his master to change his mind. The Professor relented, and that variety is today still sought after by connoisseurs on the continent for its flavour.

Herr Petzold got the story from the Head Gardener’s son, much later during the war years.

Howard Stringer

Reprinted from Fruit News, Spring 1992.


Photograph of Howard Stringer reproduced with kind permission from the web-site of Daniel  Willaeys; from 'In Memoriam Howard Stringer',