Until recently, most farms in Cornwall would have had a mixed orchard of apple, cider apple, pear, plum, quince and medlar trees, protected by hedges where lambing could take place and bees could be kept. Cherries were grown in the Tamar valley and in the south east. In West Cornwall special varieties of apples were grown for pickling.
There are quite a number of Cornish varieties which do well in the mild, moist climate of the south west, such as Cornish Aromatic, Cornish Gilliflower, Cornish Honeypin and King Byerd. These tend to be found around the Lizard, Hayle, the Lerryn, St Veep to Goland region and the Tamar valley.
Cherries were grown in the lower Tamar valley for fresh fruit shipped away via the river then by train and for jam making at Saltash. They looked so beautiful at blossom time that special boat trips were arranged. This industry declined after WWl and now few trees remain. Varieties such as Burcombes and Birchenhayes were named after the farms where they were first grown - varieties which are resistant to bacterial canker, the cherry's bane. One of the few remaining cherry orchards in the Tamar Valley can be seen at Bohetherick.
However there are concerted attempts to bring back these unique varieties to the valley. For many years James Evans and Mary Martin have been collecting grafts of local varieties of apples and cherries and growing them in their own orchard. Many of these have now gone to other collections in Cornwall such as Trelissick Gardens and at Cotehele. An excellent book about their work, 'Burcombes, Queenies and Colloggetts, the makings of a Cornish Orchard' has been written by Virginia Spiers with paintings of the orchards by Mary Martin.
Kea plums at Cowlands. In a few places on the Fal Estuary, the Kea plum, which takes its name from the village of the same name, grows in rambling orchards and even on the beach, where it is not affected by the salt-laden rain and south-westerlies.
Historically the plum has represented an important contribution to the livings of the villagers of Kea, Coombe, Cowlands and other Fal villages.
The Kea is a jamming plum, a little too tart to eat fresh, and with a glut only every third year, it typically satisfied only local consumption. However, in the past few years a number of Cornish producers and cider makers have been diversifying into commercial Kea jam, ice cream and wine production. Kea plum jam and wine is sold in Trelissick National Trust Garden shop when in season.