We taught the children the seventies hazel nuts jingle on a trip to Alba in Piedmont, home of Nutella, when we drove through mile after mile of Hazel plantations. I leave our wild hazel nuts in the hedgerows here to the mice and squirrels*, but try to have our cobnuts – their cultivated cousins – ourselves. They feature in our new mixed orchard scheme at Habitat Aid’s HQ, which was apparently a not uncommon feature of traditional Kentish orchards too; apple trees and smaller cobnut bushes make a very happy combination. We’re also including filberts, which are Corylus maxima rather than avellana, but their nuts are similar to cobs. They can be decorative too; we had a Red Filbert in our last place which looked lovely.
We’ve also – unsurprisingly – popped in a couple of English Walnuts (Juglans regia), which do well hereabouts. I was puzzled there weren’t more mature trees about until I heard about the local sawmill, which used to send a rep around the area offering cash for people’s trees. Yikes. You can get many grafted varieties, but I gather they’re tricky to graft unless you’re a specialist, so we stick with the Black and English Walnuts. There’s the most beautiful Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) nearby in the Bishop’s Palace garden at Wells, but this more ornamental cousin wouldn’t like the clay here.
We have gone for a grafted Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa) though, ‘Marron de Lyon’, which will give us a big single nut in every case – or more correctly, cupule (great Scrabble word, fantastic if pluralized). Mrs. Mann’s eyes lit up at the prospect; roasted on their own, used in stuffing, added to casseroles, etc. etc. – check out the chestnut recipes on the BBC website. It was probably the Romans who introduced Sweet Chestnuts to Britain, and they’re still celebrated in that part of the world. We wandered up to a hill top hamlet one autumnal evening on another Italian holiday and into a Marron festival. This was close to Perugia, where the hillsides were full of chestnuts and there were stalls groaning with all things chestnut. We came back laden with gorgeous dark Sweet Chestnut honey, which you’d be struggling to make here as you only get a decent nectar flow off the trees if it’s rather warmer than a typical South Somerset summer – you can’t have everything.
I did think an Almond (Prunus dulcis) would be good for my bees though, as they flower so early. Beautiful trees too, as many nut trees are, though I’m not expecting a massive crop of almonds for next Christmas.
*This is pragmatism rather than generosity; I’m no friend of the grey squirrel