An Apple a Day...
...or for several years in the case of the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale in Kent, where they have 2,300 varieties of apple alone - never mind the pears, plums, quinces, peaches, nectarines etc. etc.
The collection was started initially by the RHS, but moved from Wisley to Brogdale in the 1950s. The site was originally a government research station and the land is still owned by DEFRA, but the collection is curated by Imperial College.
However, this all looked to change last year, when DEFRA put the collection out to contract. Removal of the collection to another horticultural research site, East Malling in Kent (also famous for fruit and fruitstocks) seemed a strong contender and I also believe from a trusted source that removal to Garden Organic at Ryton was also considered. However, DEFRA have announced that the collection is to stay in situ, at least in the short term, though Reading University will take over responsibility for its curation.
Reading between the lines, it seems that a number of parties with Brogdale interests have conflicting ideas on how the site should be run - The Guardian described the situation as 'dysfunctional' last year. Is it a research site, a genetic repository, or a tourist attraction? I think it's a combination of all three and more, but everyone needs to work together and the investment needs to be provided in order for this world class site to reach its full potential. At a time when our choice of apples at the supermarket remains limited, I believe places like Brogdale increase in importance.
One of my favourite gardening books is The New Book of Apples, which provides the 'Definitive Guide' and draws heavily on Brogdale's resources for its information. It not only provides a fascinating guide to over 2,000 apple varieties, but also gives a detailed history of the fruit that dates back over several millenia. It informed my choice of the 10 heritage apple varieties I now grow on my plot.