Fruit are the apple of Gerald's eye!

IT is a place where Black Princes jostle with Winter Bananas and the Lord and Lady Lambourne perch alongside the slightly less aristocratic Howgate Wonder.

IT is a place where Black Princes jostle with Winter Bananas and the Lord and Lady Lambourne perch alongside the slightly less aristocratic Howgate Wonder.

Many are exotic, having arrived long ago from distant lands, and now they are a hundred strong in the heart of Gorleston.

Though yet to take fruit in his garden, these apples will soon act as testament to the life-long pursuits of botanical expert Gerald Fayers.

In what was once a mere hobby, but which for some time now been a self-confessed “obsession”, 84-year-old

Mr Fayers has scoured the world following his passion for apples and botany.

From stumbling upon bear prints in Canada, to taking on the wilds of Slovenia, to being driven along precipice-lined roads in battered buses in Kazakhstan, he has built up his knowledge and reputation in the field.

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It was the latter trip to the former Eastern Bloc country in 1999, in search of 300-year-old wild apple trees alongside professional botanists, that proved to be a highlight.

He said: “ I managed to get my way into a group travelling out there. There were eight of us ...and we touched down at Alnate - which means father of apples - airport. There's theories that Kazakhstan's the place where apples originated.”

His years of experience, which he now uses as a consultant for those with orchards, are rooted in a family upbringing in which growing your own food was the norm and animals were a daily part of life.

“It's just what everyone did and it's why I never leave any food on my plate. My grandmother was also one of the first women to study at Cambridge where she did botany, so you could also say it's in the genes.”

While many people moved away from their horticultural heritage, Mr Fayers pursued it alongside a 45-year career in the NHS - and at one point had more than 600 varieties of apple in his garden in Burgh Castle.

The importance of family history was highlighted when he recently discovered he still had the descendent of a tree his father planted in their garden in Norwich where he was brought up.

Having moved the tree with him through his life, he was able to name a new type of apple - Xanthic - from it, meaning he had a species for every letter of the alphabet.

A devoted member of the East of England Apples and Orchards Project (EEAOP), he modestly describes himself as an “enthusiast”, but has provided expertise for a number of books and magazines.

EEAOP chairman Martin Skipper cites Mr Fayes as an inspiration. He said: “Like his father, he is a pioneer and was the inspiration behind what we do here now at EEAOP. He has helped save and rediscover a number of apples and is a real expert.”

Rejuvenated by a recent knee operation, it looks unlikely that Mr Fayers is going to stop studying his favourite subject any time soon.

The great-grandfather-of-three, whose passion for nature has also led him to keep 600 budgerigars and 84 bee colonies, said: “It gave me a new lease of life and it meant I was able to tend to my plot like I could before. Though I don't act as consultant as much, I will always be interested in these kinds of things.”