The Productive Garden Team at The Lost Gardens of Heligan enjoyed a very rare opportunity this week as they harvested one of their famous traditionally grown pineapples from the Pineapple Pits. The 15 strong gardening team gathered in the Melon Yard forming a circle around the pit. Each person eagerly awaiting the return of Dina, an expert in the art of growing pineapples, who had descended into the pit to harvest the pineapple. Out from the pit came a small spiny plant topped with a perfect, deep yellow and improbably large pineapple.
“This is the first Smooth Cayenne pineapple to fruit at Heligan in over two years. Traditionally there were two different types grown by the Victorians each with different fruiting times, that way they could produce fruit all year around. The Smooth Cayenne variety is supposed to fruit during the months of November through to March and the Jamaican Queen then fruits for the remainder of the months, however it’s currently June so they don’t seem to be following the schedule!”
“It was a momentous occasion for the team who were each treated to a small piece of lusciously juicy and deliciously tropical tasting fruit, just as you would have in the tropics! After these years of hard work, it is almost sad to crop the fruit, however we take the crown and replant it letting the pineapple live on to another harvest.” Dina, Productive Garden Team
Traditionally pineapples were saved for the gentry of the estate and the gardeners who planted and cared for them would never have had the opportunity to taste the fruit of their labour. The pineapples we grow today are shared between everyone who made this moment so special; the carpenter who repaired the pits, the painter who keeps them so white and every gardener whether
they watered, planted or shifted manure. Everyone left the Melon Yard with sticky figures and smiles on their faces, looking forward to the next pineapple treat.
Eight facts about Heligan Pineapples
Everybody likes a good pineapple fact, so here are 8 of our favourites.
1) Our pineapples are grown in specially designed pits heated by a continuous supply of fresh decomposing manure, the heat of this warms air that enters the pits through holes in the wall. The diagram below shows how it works.
2) Although we use horse manure to heat the Pineapple Pits, our pineapples do not taste of manure or urine, they are actually some of the best tasting pineapples outside of the Tropics.
3) The Queen was gifted the second pineapple ever grown at Heligan. Heligan Gardeners ate the first one just to check that it didn't taste of manure... which it didn't.
4) Prince Charles came to visit the Gardens in 1997 to see the first budding pineapple fruit. Image seen below.
5) The pineapple seen above is a Smooth Cayenne thought to have been first brought to Britain in 1819.
6) The pineapples within our pits are an eclectic mix of plants gifted to us from Kew Gardens and rare individuals acquired from the Caribbean.
7) There are three different ways we grow new pineapples. Number one, we twist off the top green spikey bit of a newly harvested pineapple and place it in nutrient rich compost. Number two, we remove small shoots called 'suckers'; from the base of the pineapple which can be reported as new plants. Number three, side shoots occasionally come off the plant, these have not got roots like the suckers so require much more care, but with time they can be grown into a healthy plant. We do not reuse a plant once it has produced pineapples as their second harvest will always be much, much smaller, however, keeping them alive after harvest does promote the production of these new suckers so we keep them a while to see what grows.
8) Pineapples are a very labour-intensive fruit to grow. The current variety which we just harvested took 2 years to fruit, this is not including the years of work to restore the pit and fine tune our methodology for growing the plants. Including the man hours taken to look after the pineapple, transport costs of manure, maintenance of the pineapple pits and other little bits and pieces, each pineapple would probably cost us in excess of £1000. Although in auction to the right buyer we believe a price around £10,000 may be imaginable, after all... where else can you buy a pineapple with such a story.