Discovering the lost world of apples

By Simon de Salis, Tas Regions

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Apples on the tree ready for harvest - Woodbridge Fruit Farm

Apples on the tree ready for harvest - Woodbridge Fruit Farm

Different varieties of apples - Woodbridge Fruit Farm
Huon apple guru Bob Magnus
Nik Magnus from Woodbridge Fruit Farm
Different varieties of apples - Woodbridge Fruit Farm


The orchard at Woodbridge Fruit Trees is a veritable lost world of apples, and nursery co-owner Nik Magnus wants everyone to rediscover the wonderful diversity of Tasmania’s signature fruit.

‘We want to expand people’s horizons to the amazing amount of apple varieties available, and to the merit of each one,’ says Nik, who runs the Woodbridge and Cygnet-based business with his brother-in-law Steve Kingston. ‘From the common to the eclectic, early to late ripening, they all have their own size, shape, colours, flavours, textures and uses, whether it be eating fresh, cooking, juicing saucing, preserving, drying, or making into cider.

‘Just because an apple is shiny and red, doesn’t mean it will taste nice; nor does an apple that looks old and gnarly necessarily taste bad. I remember eating some russeted, wrinkly apples that my grandfather grew in Switzerland, and they had the loveliest flavour imaginable.’

Founded by Nik’s father, the renowned resident apple guru Bob Magnus more than 30 years ago, Woodbridge Fruit Trees is devoted to preserving heritage apple varieties and has carefully collected some 300. Its online catalogue displays a vast range with exotic names such as Beauty of Bath, Sugarloaf Pippin, Devonshire Quarrenden, Vista Bela and James Grieve.

‘We’ve selected up to 90 varieties for sale that we think they are so special that they deserve to be in other people’s gardens as well,’ says Nik.

And there’s the catch: if you want to eat this marvellous fruit, you have to grow it. But this is not a problem, according to Nik. In fact it’s a plus.

‘Using dwarfing fruit trees, you only need a small amount of space, so anyone with a yard can do it,’ says Nik. ‘Nothing comes close to the pleasure of growing your own food, and no apple tastes as good as one straight from the branch. It is certainly far richer than anything you can get from the supermarket, where the small range has been selected for commercial reasons rather than flavour.’

Nik practises what he preaches having inherited his father’s green thumbs, as did his brother Dan, who owns Woodbridge Nursery, and his sister Lisa, a florist. Recently Nik moved to Cygnet from West Hobart, where his backyard boasted 13 apple varieties, three cherry, three apricots and two plum trees. ‘It was just a normal sized block, and it didn’t look crowded even with all my fruit trees. They were along fence lines and the side of the house.’

The secret is to grow the trees from dwarfing root stock, which is a big part of what Woodbridge Fruit Trees offers, and to espalier them. This entails training a fruit tree onto a wire or trellis so it grows in a structured way along a fence or wall. Each tree can be planted as close as a couple of metres apart, and the espalier method makes pruning straight-forward, allowing several varieties to be grown in a relatively small space.

‘Not only are espaliers a very beautiful way to grow your fruit trees, their fruit can be picked without using a ladder,’ says Nik. ‘Netting is easily done and pruning decisions are quite simple.’

Bob Magnus perfected the artistic simplicity of the espalier technique over the last 20 years, and passed on the skills to Nik and Steve, who are keen to share them with the world. Their website is a treasure trove of information and although the small nursery sells primarily by mail order and does not have a retail outlet, visits can be arranged. Nik, Steve and even the retired (but still very apple active) Bob can be contacted for advice.

‘We want to promote the growing of these trees in small areas and in particular to urban gardeners,’ says Nik. ‘We aren’t out to compete with the big nurseries, but to satisfy a niche market. This is not just in Tasmania but all over Australia where apples can be grown. our stock goes to Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia, ACT, Western Australia and Queensland as well..’ The nursery also sells heritage varieties of crab apples, pears, cherries, plums, apricots, nectarines, quinces and nut trees.

Wise words from Guru Bob
‘For a productive home orchard: buy dwarf trees, plant them close, don’t let weeds compete, keep pruning to an absolute minimum, keep branches horizontal and don’t fertilize heavily.’

From What are dwarfing fruit trees? How to make a prolific orchard. by Bob Magnus, one of many articles and garden tips available at


This story published in Autumn 2012 edition of Tas Regions, a publication of Tasmania's Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment. Reproduced with permission.

To read more regional Tasmanian stories, go to


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