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Archive for the ‘FRUIT’ Category

 Article adapted from November issue of BL Magazine.

I have a not-so-secret mission to temp and persuade as many people as possible to grow fruit. Any birthday presents I give tend to be of the fruiting kind, pots stuffed with strawberries, a pair of blueberry bushes, a fan-trained cherry, each adorned with a great big bow. I haven’t had any complaints yet. And the best thing is is that these gifts will continue to fruit their socks off for years to come, perhaps a lifetime. Perfect.

Part of this mission involves conquering those that are non-gardeners by giving them a little insight into choosing, buying and planting a fruit tree, without frightening them away.  Now happens to be the perfect time to do this, buying and planting trees that is… unless you are frozen solid in a winter wonderland!  The dormancy that winter brings allows fruit tree growers a great window of opportunity. Over the next few months sleeping specimens can be carefully dug up, with roots loosened of any soil [hence ‘bare root’] and transported far and wide, without causing too much trauma to the plant.

Buying bare root at this time of year gives you the most choice in terms of varieties and will be cheaper as there is less packaging and so lower transport costs. Choosing the variety of fruit will be the most challenging decision and I would recommend requesting a plant list from a specialist nursery or doing some research on the internet [see contacts at bottom].

Once you have set your heart on a particular type and variety, just check which pollination group it falls into or whether it is self-fertile. The pollination group is categorised by numbers [1 to 7] and refers to the time the variety blossoms. The idea is to choose another variety in the same blossom time to ensure pollination or, if self-fertile, a better crop.

One last decision to make is what form of tree to buy and how big you want it to grow. For a smaller garden you may want to buy a ‘trained’ form like a fan or a tiered espalier, or if you prefer the standard tree form choose a less vigorous rootstock.

Rootstocks!?  Without getting too technical here…fruit trees [mainly apples and pears] are propagated by joining two separate trees, one being the variety you want to eat and the other being the rootstock which determines how big the tree will grow. The clever part is…you can have your favourite variety of fruit on any of the available rootstocks.

There are a number of rootstock definitions that specialist growers will be very familiar with and they will be more than happy to advise you. However, to give you some examples [and make you sound knowledgeable] for apples ‘M106’ is a semi-dwarfing stock that is suitable for small gardens [up to 3m], ‘Quince A’ is the best dwarfing stock for pears and quinces [up to 3-6m] while ‘St Julian A’ is the best dwarfing for plums [up to 4m].

 The next step is to order your bare root specimen[s] and wait, patiently, for them to arrive. As soon as it is delivered, unwrap and plant out. If you’re unable to do this straight away make sure you keep the root system moist and protect from frost.

When you do find the opportunity to plant, there are a couple of things to remember. Dig a hole slightly larger than the root system. Fork over the bottom to open up the soil [roots don’t like compacted soil]. Make sure the trunk isn’t sitting too low, aim for the same level it was planted at the nursery [ look for  the ‘join’ of the rootstock and variety and make sure this is clear of soil level].  Back-fill, firming soil so there are no air pockets left between the roots. Stake, I opt for the angled approach [facing into wind so it pushes the stake into the ground].

That’s it. A fifteen minute job and a lifetime of pleasure to look forward to. You’ll be tentatively watching for the first blossom to erupt in spring, the first bee to pollinate, the fruitlets to develop, the swelling and changing of fruit shape and colour and finally the first taste…for many many moons to come.

FRUIT TREE SPECIALSTS

Orange Pippin Fruit Trees  

RV Rogers 

Ornamental Trees

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Article featured on www.fennelandferm.co.uk [October 2010]

Sometimes life brings along some real surprises. Being approached by the most renowned Italian cook, Antonio Carluccio, to design and landscape his garden was certainly one of those moments. It all came about through exhibiting a small back-to-back garden, ‘Be Fruitful’, at the 2009 RHS Flower Show at Tatton Park. Bizarrely [the Gods must have been looking out for me] the details of my fruit-themed garden had been passed on to BBC Breakfast, who in turn contacted me to find out if I would be up for their early morning live slot to talk about all things fruity. Obviously, and incredibly nervously, I said ‘yeah ok’. Antonio happened to be watching the morning I was featured and happened to have just bought a new property that had a garden that needed some attention.

Antonio’s fruit garden is inspired by the ‘Be fruitful’ show garden as he liked many elements of the design. The show garden set out to challenge the way we perceive growing fruit, no longer relegating it next to the compost bins but bringing it to the forefront and mixing it with ornamental perennials, grasses and roses. The design was contemporary, with clean lines, white rendered walls to reflect light and raised beds to allow for easy maintenance. You can see some pictures of it here.

Antonio’s garden embodies most of these features as well as fourteen different varieties of fruit. The brief included a number of practical requirements: a workshop; plenty of space for entertaining; an area for a barbeque and spacious raised beds. A variety of fruits, as much grass as possible and a ‘herbery’ were also on the wish list.

The layout of the garden maximises the most sunniest aspect for the main raised bed planting area; critical for ripening those fruits. A large circular lawn is central to the garden with a raised curved area of Balau decking leading into Antonio’s dining room. Following the line of the curve from the lawn is the spacious SW facing raised bed, rendered and painted white to give a very clean and modern feel. 

The ornamental planting is a mixture of perennials, grasses, bulbs, small shrubs and roses to give that all-important interest through the seasons. Many of the flowering plants have been selected to attract butterflies and bees, for example various Alliums, Achillea millefolium ‘Red Velvet’, Salvia nemorosa ‘Ostfriesland’ and Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’. Others have been chosen for their scent Dianthus Firestar, Lavender angustifolia and dwarf stocks; all with a colour palette of rich reds, purples, pinks and white. 

Lysimachia purpurea

The garden features three half standard specimen fruit trees, a Cox Apple, Quince Vranja and Oullins Golden Gage, planted in the main raised bed to give height to the garden and to act as a screen to neighbouring houses. More espalier/fan trained fruit trees including another apple; a peach and two double U cordon pears are being trained along stainless steel cables. Soft fruits include strawberries, blueberry bushes, rhubarb, gooseberry, raspberry, tayberry, blackberry and a grapevine… certainly enough for a fruity feast!

The raised ‘herbery’ bed includes a number of herbs Antonio is particularly partial to … Italian flat-leaf parsley Petroselinum crispum var. Neapolitanum, garden sage Salvia officinalis, rosemary and wild garlic Allium ursinum along with many more.

Selecting fruit for the best flavours and textures was probably one of THE most daunting tasks; especially as the opportunity of tasting varieties was impossible – it was the middle of winter! The strawberries I could guarantee as I inherited an unknown variety that tastes divine, it was just a matter of making sure I had enough good-sized specimens [selected from the previous year’s runners]. For the other fruit, research and cross-referencing research on tastes was the only option. Thankfully I seem to have chosen well as the feedback has been very positive – especially the savouring of the single quince!

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So why the fruit?

We all dream of a burgeoning vegetable patch with rows of lovely, pristine leafy greens, but the reality of reaching this vegetable growing equilibrium is not that simple. The pre-planning, rotating, soil warming, successional sowings and the constant care and maintenance to nurture and ward off pests and diseases does take up lots …and lots…of time.

I admit, hold my hands up, I do find it difficult to grow veg in my own garden. The best I can do is herbs and salads in pots and troughs; and potatoes in bags. My excuse? A north-facing plot on snail infested, moisture retentive clay soil is not the ideal start. Put together with a young family; running a business; and the daily routine of domestic chores simply means I find it hard to make time to do veg justice…despite the dreaming of wanting to! Reality tells me that I need something which is tougher, needs less nurturing but can still produce a tasty, and beautiful, crop… enter humble fruit.

Fruit is by far easier to grow and look after than most vegetables. Fruits generally come in a number of fuss-free forms such as perennials, canes, shrubs and of course trees. Buying them will cost more than a packet of seeds, but they are an investment as they will last and continue to produce for many years. Simply planting them in the soil, preferably is a sunny spot, will [in most cases] ensure their growth, regardless of how they’re treated [within reason of course]. In fact, [I’m putting my neck on the line here] growing fruit is easier than maintaining a lawn.

The ‘easy peasy-ist’ of the fruits has to be strawberries. To start get hold of some decent specimens from your local garden centre/nursery and plant either in containers [if you don’t mind watering] or directly into your borders. By summer you will have some delicious strawberries that are far tastier than shop-bought ones. Strawberries are notorious for sending out ‘runners’ [little stems that root into the soil and produce a new plant] which is certainly handy for expanding stocks. If you have enough though, simply snip them off as soon as they appear. The only other maintenance would be to cut back old foliage in the spring and give a good feed [which all plants will love you for].

Next on the easy list is rhubarb. Although you do need a bit of patience with this one as new [and usually small] rhubarb plants need to be left for the first couple of years to bulk up before harvesting. They also love drenches of liquid feed throughout the summer.

Raspberries. These are one of my favourites and are just as easy to grow. I especially like them as they will tolerate the more shady spots in your garden. There is a rule of thumb with raspberries as there are two types, summer-fruiting and autumn-fruiting. The summer-fruiting bears raspberries on growth done the previous year, which means you cut out just the fruited canes in the autumn and leave all the new ones in place. The autumn-fruiting is simpler, cut all canes back to the ground after harvesting as these will fruit on one season’s growth. Blackberries, tayberries and logan berries are also very easy to grow.

If you prefer to have a go at growing fruit trees, choosing which types to grow is probably the most difficult task as there are hundreds of varieties available. Go for your favourite fruit first, then look into the different qualities of the varieties [www.orangepippin.com has good descriptions of apple varieties]. The more exotic fruits like peaches and apricots will need more care especially protection from early frosts but apples, pears and plums will generally do very well.

Then there is the rootstock, which simply determines the overall size of the fruit tree. A specialist fruit nursery will be more than happy to help you choose the best one for the space you have …and if space is really minimal opt for a trained form like a fan or cordon. These are usually more expensive than young trees [between £30 and £60] but will start producing fruit earlier as they are older specimens. One last point to bear in mind is that some fruits need pollinating partners to set fruit properly; again something which a specialist nursery can help you with.

Growing fruit is greatly rewarding, its overwhelming yields and minimal maintenance make it very appealing. It is these qualities [plus the yummy puddings they can make] which have certainly won me over and is why I love to promote the growing of fruit. So, if free time is a rarity and you would love to get involved in growing your own, fruit is definitely the way to go.

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