Rab’s orchard puts others in the shade

Rab Thomson
Rab Thomson

A CHANCE sighting of newly-planted young trees led to a Buckhaven man taking an important role in a local environmental group.

Self-taught fruit tree expert Rab Thomson, of Den Walk, was out walking his dog on the Braes in Buckhaven when he spotted a load of saplings planted by CLEAR, the voluntary community association set up by residents to improve the quality of the local environment.

Looking at the labels, it wasn’t the name of the variety that caught his eye but the code for the actual rootstock, from which he could tell that the saplings were planted too close together for their eventual full size.

“I got in touch with CLEAR to let them know, they invited me along to a meeting and it just went from there,” Rab said.

As a result, he is now the group’s resident fruit tree adviser, on hand to recommend what to plant where, when and how.

He has been involved in the planting of a ‘guerilla’ orchard behind Buckhaven Library, the community orchard, trees at Muiredge and also rescuing a wild orchard discovered on waste ground off College Street.

Rab’s own garden, a silver award winner in the Beautiful Fife competition, is a sight to behold, especially when in full blossom in the spring.

In a tiny triangular patch he has created his own orchard of apple, pear and plum trees – 28 in total, from ‘hidden’ knee-high ‘step-overs’ tucked among companion planted marigolds to an old Scottish red-fleshed apple variety called Bloody Ploughman.

Surprisingly, he isn’t a life-long gardener, although he says he has always had a fascination for fruit trees.

“I remember when we were boys and used to steal apples, I once broke off a branch and took it home to plant it, thinking it would just grow.” he recalled.

A faceworker at the Seafield pit until the miners’ strike of 1984, Rab (55) credits his trees with pulling him out of years of personal problems four years ago.

“At that time the garden was so neglected and overgrown I got a warning letter from the council,” he said. “I started watching some gardening programmes on TV and one day just went out and cut out circles for planting trees. Once I’d done that I knew I had to keep going.”

The transformation is impressive. Every inch is used, from the first three fruit trees he planted in his small lawn to a lush vine, now in its second year, thriving in its own microclimate against his stair wall.

He dreams of someday being able to visit the national fruit collection, which has more than 4000 varieties, at Brogdale in Kent.

In the meantime, his next challenge is growing apricots, trying out a new variety developed to withstand the harsh Scottish climate.