Choosing fruit trees that crop regularly and produce fruit of good flavour
Variety choice: eating, cooking, juicing, slicing, baking, cider making
The British cooking apple
Why the correct choice of fruit tree is paramount to success
Which varieties to plant
There are many varieties of apple in the UK. An estimate as to the exact figure would be almost 3,000! Some are very good varieties, others less so. But they are all different. Knowing what to plant where, and ensuring that you will be able to enjoy the beauty of blossom and the satisfaction of being able to pick some good fruits at harvest time, are not always straightforward.
Apart from the differences in climatic conditions in the various counties of the UK, there are many other factors which have a great influence on the health and well-being of the trees in order to do well. Fruit trees can be long-lived, and to a large degree they are capable of looking after themselves, provided the site is suitable and the planting has been done with care.
Many of the most interesting varieties of fruit are usually not to be found in retail outlets such as supermarkets. The corresponding trees are also quite scarce, and they are not grown in large volumes by nurseries.
Choosing fruit trees that crop regularly and produce fruit of good flavour
There are different requirements to take in consideration to achieve early and regular cropping:
4) Pollination needs
5) Variety characteristics
6) Disease resistance
There are no apple varieties which can tick all the boxes. Knowledge of the weather patterns in the various areas of the UK is therefore essential, in order to plant the right varieties. However there are varieties which I would give a treble A rating, when it comes to making up trios of apple varieties. Groups of three varieties are best, as several varieties need good cross pollination. Without this, even excellent varieties will still under-perform. The ones I am going to single out all have fruits of excellent eating or cooking qualities. Secondly these varieties also excel in producing fruits of long keeping qualities.
However the right combination of these varieties needs to be made, according to the site and soil available in the different counties. Having said all this, I would put the following varieties at the top of my list. Anyone considering planting some apples should include at least two of these varieties, suitable to the area where you live.
Lane Prince Albert
Duke of Devonshire
Dual purpose apples:
Variety choice: eating, cooking, juicing, slicing, baking, cider making
If you are planning to have your own orchard, or just a few trees in the garden, the question arises of which variety of fruit to plant. The most reliable trees from the cropping point of view are apples. Secondly you may then ask yourself, which apple variety suits me best. Which type of apple will be liked by the children and which apple does grandma prefer? I don’t want all the apples to ripen at the same time. So how do I set about making the right choice? In the end it all comes down to a few elementary principles.
1) All apples, picked when mature, will become sweet. Some are by nature sweet when it is harvest time. Others have a degree of sharpness at harvest time and will retain their sharpness longer. Therefore if you plant more than one tree, it is best to choose different varieties. In that way your fruit will not all ripen at the same time. At harvest time, all apples are crisp. However the late maturing apples keep their crispness the longest.
2) All apples will cook. However some apples are better suited than others. The same applies to baking and apples used for slicing. Some apples will retain their shape when baked, others go to mush.
3) The best apples for keeping are the late maturing apples, picked in October, some even in November, particularly the smaller sized apples. However, always keep them in a dark place, which should be the coolest possible. The ideal temperature at which to keep apples is around 3 degrees Celsius.
4) Humidity around apples is important to reduce shrivelling. When you store your apples, cover them loosely with plastic, for example an open plastic bag.
5) If you have the room, store the fruit in single layers. This will reduce the spread of rotting from one apple to another.
6) Finally if you lack the space, then keep the apples in the bottom of your fridge as soon as you have picked them.
The British cooking apple
All apples can be cooked. However some apples are specifically cooking apples, often based on the size and acidity of the fruits. If thought out and chosen carefully, it is perfectly possible to have your own supply of cooking apples, 12 months of the year.
The next factor to take in consideration is where in the country you want to plant your cooking apples. Various varieties are better suited to the North and others like the warmer South. But what applies to them all is that pollination has to be right in order to have regular crops to harvest. A few varieties will even succeed in notorious frost pockets. All the same, if you have the choice of planting higher up the slopes instead of the valley, where cold air tends to collect at night and early in the morning, particularly at blossom time, it is far better to avoid planting in low-lying areas.
The value of cooking apples is greatly underestimated. There is no dispute that by and large we do appreciate the specific flavours of the traditional eating apples. There is always a place to be found in the garden, however large or small, for a good eating apple, particularly if it has, apart from a good flavour, good keeping qualities. Due to mass production and the fact that it may have been transported from far and wide, the flavour of supermarket fruit is always suspect. It is good to see that many people have started to plant young fruit trees in their own gardens.
But what about cooking apples? At this time of the year, during all the cold winter months, over the centuries it has been recognized by many chefs and people who love to cook, that the sharpness of a good cooking apple makes a great addition for various dishes, warm or cold, which otherwise would be too sweet on their own. Years gone by, cooking apples were transported from all over the country to London, as their taste and flavour were greatly appreciated by top London restaurants. Take for example Norfolk Beefing, a splendid flavoursome apple: the price paid for these apples was the highest during the winter months. Then there is Dr. Harvey, a long-lasting good winter cooking apple from Suffolk. In fact many counties championed their own cooking apple as the best of them all. Of course, Bramley is well known and is in no danger of fading away. However it is a real pity that supermarket culture has led us to believe that a good cooking apple needs to be green. This is way off the mark, as many excellent cooking apples are coloured. Even Bramley! The real Suffolk Bramley has a good deal of colour on its cheeks.
I have chosen the best varieties from the large range of cooking apples available. Here they are in alphabetical order:
Edward the VII
Lane Prince Albert
Sops in Wine
Why the correct choice of fruit tree is paramount to success
In principle, there are four fundamental factors that determine success in growing top fruit outdoors: site, soil, weather conditions and type of fruit planted. Under the heading top fruit we can place apples, pears, greengages, plums, cherries, quinces, walnuts, sweet chestnuts, hazelnuts and medlars. If you are planning to purchase and plant trees, it is essential to ensure that the trees are suitable for your area. Fruit trees will grow in most areas of the UK. However, successful growing and cropping is another matter. It is a good idea to obtain good advice to avoid disappointment.
Which type of tree fruit carries the least risk and is successful on most soils in the UK? Undoubtedly this is apple. Choice of variety is important, as normally it is colder in the north of England. Temperature during blossom time is of great importance in order to secure a good fruit set. Also in the northerly counties the type of pollinator will have to be chosen carefully.
A second question of importance is this; which type of fruit is more able to cope with areas of high rain fall? Plums and pears, provided the soil is not too acid, usually do well in the higher rainfall areas. Pears in particular are very sensitive to droughty conditions and thin soils. Cherries love deep soils. Greengages need the right companion in order to crop well. Cherries and greengages are more suited to central and southern counties. This does not apply to Morello cherries as these trees flower later.
What about peaches, nectarines and apricots? These fruits have a much higher demand of warmth and hours of sunshine during the growing season. However, if grown on the right rootstock and placed against a wall facing south, with sufficient t.l.c. and regular watering during dry and warm periods, during the summer months, the net result often is excellent.
In addition, geographical factors also affect the choice of trees. For example, in the northern counties, climatic conditions are substantially different compared with East Anglia. The average temperatures during the growing season are 2 to 3 degrees lower. This results in a shorter period in which the fruit has to mature and develop its full flavour. The same applies to the West Country; here the rainfall is substantially greater compared with the east of the country. Some well-known varieties of apple trees are not suitable for high rainfall areas. Other apple tree varieties are very suitable and excel.
We have been growing fruit and trees in this country since 1960, and I have been able to taste a huge range of varieties over the years. If you asked me which are the best eating apples ever raised and produced in this country, I would say Ashmead Kernel and Suntan. Both varieties have supreme eating qualities and good keeping qualities. But why, you may say, are these varieties so neglected, and never recommended by gardening magazines and the like?
The problem with Ashmead Kernel and Suntan is pollination. Without correct pollinators, these varieties will not be able to produce regular crops. Chivers Delight and Grenadier are both self-fertile, and they are good companions for Suntan. Chivers Delight, Grenadier and Suntan, planted together, are a great combination.
Strangely, Suntan runs the risk of disappearing from many nurseries. Today there are only two tree propagators who list Suntan, and this is due to the variety gradually disappearing from public view. But it is truly a superb apple, and I would place it in number one position, for its great flavour, its crispness, and the fact that after picking in late October, it keeps easily until after Christmas.
Suntan does best on M26 rootstock. It should never be planted on its own: the best companion varieties are Royal Gala, Egremont Russet, Chiver’s Delight, Annie Elisabeth, and Claygate Pearmain.
Of course, new varieties are appearing all the time. Scrumptious is a very new variety, very promising, with a great future. But it’ll take something else to knock Suntan off that number one pedestal!
Many years ago, when I was growing up, I remember my parents battling away, trying to cover their the cherry trees with nets to stop the birds eating all the cherries. This was not very successful and in the end, they let the birds have most of these delicious fruits. We all love cherries, and likewise our feathered friends, who have a brilliant talent at getting their beaks into the fruit just as it reaches perfection on the tree. People who grow cherries are caught up in a constant struggle with the birds. Because of birds, 20 years ago, it was a dodgy proposition to grow your own cherries. Then came along a new dwarfing rootstock called Colt and a self-fertile variety called Stella and it became easier to grow your own cherries. Today there are two dwarfing rootstocks available, Colt and Gisela 5. The choice depends on your soil and the type of cherry you would like to grow, whether a sweet cherry or a sour cherry. The ultimate height of trees on these rootstocks will be not much more than 8-10 feet, depending on depth of soil and soil quality. To cover this type of tree with a bird-proof net is very feasible. However, there is one other point not to be overlooked; apply the nets when the cherries are still green. If you try to cover the trees when the cherries are nearly ready and the birds have had already a taste of the fruits, then the birds will make holes in the nets and the battle is lost.
Another important point is that cherry trees can suffer badly from early attacks of greenfly, black cherry aphids. This usually happens as soon there is new leaf emerging, right at the beginning of the season, well before blossom time (late April). Visit your garden centre and choose the most nature-friendly option to overcome this potential problem.
A good selection of varieties is available to cover the cherry season. Many of those varieties are self-fertile and therefore pollination should not be an issue. The trees will need to be staked, and they should not be planted in a frost pocket. However, make sure that you cover up your cherry tree with a double layer of garden fleece, BEFORE THE FIRST BLOSSOM OPENS! This is essential to avoid early spring frosts making your blossom sterile and making your crop prospects a disappointment. Leave some small gaps on the side for the bees to move in and out, as many varieties do better when pollination is performed with the help of bumble bees.
There are some ground rules which you have to adhere to, in order for you to get the cherries in the first place and not the birds.
1) To make netting a success. it is far simpler to train your cherry tree along a wall or a fence, rather than a free standing tree.
2) Cover your cherry tree with green shade netting from early April, before blossoming starts and leave it in position until you have picked your crop in June/July.
3) Don’t let aphids ruin your young shoots. Cut out any curled up shoots and put them in the non-recycling bin. Encourage ladybirds, lacewings and earwigs, which are effective predators of the aphids. As a last resort, spray with an approved anti-aphids mixture, obtainable from your garden centre.
4) To stop the fruit from splitting, water the trees weekly with 5 to 10 litres of water each week from May until you have harvested your crop.
5) To avoid fungal diseases always prune your cherry trees as soon as you have picked your crop. Never prune during the winter months!
6) Depending on the rootstock used, give your trees sufficient space. Not too close.
7) Only plant self-fertile varieties.
8) Pick the crop when ready to eat. Cherries do not ripen off the trees.
9) Handle the fruit gently; pick the fruit with the stalk and the cherries will keep for 10 days in good condition at the bottom of the fridge, if you don’t want to eat them all in one go.
10) If you go on holiday ask your best friend to pick the cherries for you. Do not let them rot on the tree. Feed your tree with organic manure each year.
Cydonia vulgaris – blossom, scent, ease of growing
Quinces are beautiful trees and live to a great age. These trees love to grow in fertile and moist soil. They love an open and sunny position. They are ideal near a stream. They have beautiful large abundant white and pink blossoms, fairly late in the spring. A very hardy tree. They usually do best with a companion. I recommend Vranja and Meeches Early Prolific. The latter is smaller and more suitable for the smaller garden. The trees, once established, need no further attention as they are very capable of looking after themselves. However in the early years it is important to remove crossing branches and any other branches which reduce the entry of light into the tree. The black marking that can occur on the fruits is caused by crossing branches that scar the quinces. As for all fruit trees, in the early years, it is important to give the quince trees water in very dry summer periods.
The fruits are very aromatic and should be stored on their own, as the quince scent will adversely affect the flavour of other fruits. Store them in a cool, frost-free place. The fruits are superb for the preparation of a large range of dishes either as an addition or by themselves.
If, in addition to the blossom, you like the quince fruits as well, then plant 2 Quinces, not of the same variety. There is plenty of choice; Champion, Vranja, Portugal, Serbian Gold, Meeches Prolific. The fruits are a highly attractive and mostly deep yellow. The size of the fruits varies according to the variety. The scent of the ripening fruits, for example Vranja, is just wonderful. The intensity increases as the fruits ripen. The shape of the fruits is different from one variety to the next; Serbian Gold quinces are more apple-shaped while Vranja is more elongated. Meeches Prolific fruits are smaller in size, but of more distinctive flavour, useful when making quince marmalade or quince jelly, or as slices used to add flavour to apple pies. Meeches Prolific crops early, and it is also the most regular cropper.
Quinces love organic matter and need to be planted in bare ground around the stem. NO GRASS!! For the first three years, keep 4 square feet around the trunk of the tree clear of grass and weeds and well mulched with organic matter/manure. In the first three years, during drought, help the tree with a full watering can regularly, to stop the tree from drying out.
Planting distance depends on soil depth. Deep loamy soils will produce a larger canopy, compared with stony, shallow soils. As a benchmark, allow 3 to 5 metre spacing, depending on site and soil quality. No need for detailed pruning whatsoever. Just remove the odd crossing branch or broken branch. That’s all. The trees are very independent and like to look after themselves. All you have to do is to enjoy their beauty and their flavoursome fruits.
There are several ways of preparing quinces for jams, chutneys, jellies etc. It is the initial preparation which is important to get right. The fruits are rock-hard and therefore need to be softened up before peeling and coring them:
1) wash the quinces
2) wrap each one in foil
3) bake in the oven until soft, for up to 1 hour
4) unwrap when cool and remove cores and any skin
5) use for recipes as required.
Apricots in the UK
We have had remarkable success with the apricots that we have grown in our garden orchard. Amazingly, in difficult years in which many types of fruit struggled to produce a good crop, our Moorpark apricot performed very well, taking fruit size and flavour into consideration. The Moorpark variety is as old as the hills, has been around and grown for hundreds of years and yet it came up with the most delicious fruits. The espalier-trained tree, grown on a South to South Eastern-positioned wall, flowers quite early, often during March. We cover it with a double layer of garden fleece, to stop the frosts from killing the flowers and we take the fleece off when the bumble bees want to visit the blossoms. This creates a good fruit set. From then on it is a question of watering the tree during dry spells. By the end of May we thin the fruit to a spacing of approximately 5 inches apart and that is it. No pests or diseases to deal with. It produces crops of fabulous fruits that are 1)ready by the middle of August. In some years it crops better than apple, pear or plum.
It is probably the fact that apricots tend to flower so early and set fruit early that can give them a good start in difficult seasons, particularly if there are some good warm days when the apricot is in flower. The moral of this story is that the early flowering of almonds, apricots, peaches and nectarines is no problem. Always of course you have to make sure that when they begin to blossom the trees are covered at night with a double layer of garden fleece when the weatherman tells us a night frost is expected.
Here is a summary of what we have learned about growing apricots in the UK over the years.
1) It’s easy to grow. It has to be on a South-facing wall; it will need a space of approx. 6 to 7 metres wall length (this length can be shorter, but in this case, more summer pruning is necessary.)
2) The planting hole needs to be thoroughly prepared. Use John Innes tree planting compost and make sure the tree is not exposed to a leak in the gutter.
3) The most important thing: remember that the tree blossoms very early, usually in March or early April, and that if blossom is exposed to temperatures of -1 degrees Celsius or colder, it will be killed, and no fruit will be formed. That’s why protection with garden fleece is essential during spring frosts as described above. You should provide thermal protection for the tree from mid February to the end of May. Fix large-size shelf brackets to the wall above the apricot tree and construct a wooden shelf. Use this to fasten a double layer of fleece each year around the second week of February. Cover the entire tree, and make sure the wind cannot blow it off at any time. Lift the fleece during the day only, when the tree is in flower, so that pollinating insects can carry out their work. All this is necessary because the Apricot is very sensitive to frost. In addition, until leaf starts to develop, it is sensitive to “peach leaf curl” and bacterial canker. The great thing about apricot growing is that you do not need to use any chemicals, if you protect the tree as outlined above.
4) While the tree loves organic matter around its base, it’s important to keep it away from the trunk. It hates the grass around its base, so mulch the tree well, in order to keep grass and weeds at bay.
5) Never let the tree struggle for moisture.
6) Continue to foliar feed the tree and water the tree during the summer months. A shortage of moisture during the summer will affect the quality of the fruit buds the following year.
7) When the size of the best young fruits has reached around 10mm in fruit size, then it is the right time to seriously reduce the number of fruits. Bring back bunches of fruitlets to singles and space the fruits 6 to 8 inches apart. Always retain the largest fruits.
8) Pick the fruit when turning yellow in August. At this stage, flavour will have developed well.
9) NEVER prune an apricot during the winter months, but always when there is a full canopy of leaves.
10) If any summer pruning needs to be done later during the summer months, remove surplus strongly-growing laterals. Do not cut out any new shoots which have closed down early. These usually carry the best fruit buds for the following year and therefore should be retained.
11) One has to be aware of the fact that over-cropping of apricots can lead to having too much crop in one year and not enough in the next year. This applies particularly to the 1 year old wood of well-grown healthy trees. If there is an abundance of blossom on this wood, then this wood needs to be cut back before the blossom has a chance to set fruit.
Apricot tree development:
February/March of the first year:
Start with 2 side branches. Cut these back by about 2 inches. Remove all other growth (March). Promote strong growth by ensuring that there is sufficient water, nutrients and warmth (using the fleece as detailed above). Seal all fresh pruning cuts with “Heal and Seal” compound. This protects against bacterial canker.
Late September of the first year:
Select 2 shoots on either side. Tie in with bamboo canes at 45 degree angles. Cut the original side branches and the extra 4, back by about a third of their length. Continue to feed well (slow release fertiliser, Osmacote or the equivalent).
February/March of the second year:
Select the final 2 branches, and carry out the same procedure as in the first year.
From then onwards:
After cropping, cut out the wood that carried a crop (i.e. in August). Tie in new canes to replace the wood that carried fruit. Apricot crops best on younger wood. Never prune apricots during the winter months but ALWAYS as soon as you have picked the crop. This helps to avoid disease from developing. The same applies to plums, cherries, apricots, peach and nectarines.
Apricot Fan Training process
February/March of the first year
Start with 2 side branches
Cut these back by about 2 inches. Remove all other growth. (March)
Promote strong growth. (Water, nutrients, warmth).
Seal all fresh pruning cuts with “Heal and Seal” compound. This protects against bacterial canker.
Select 2 shoots on either side
Tie in with bamboo canes at 45 degree angles
Cut the original side branches and the extra 4, back by about a third of their length,
Continue to feed well (slow release fertiliser, Osmacote or the equivalent).
February/March of the second year
Select the final 2 branches,
Carry out the same procedure as in the first year
From then onwards
After cropping, cut out the wood that carried a crop (i.e. in August). Tie in new canes to replace the wood that carried fruit.
Apricot crops best on younger wood.
Figs in the UK
Fig trees are not native to Northern European countries. Countries such as Portugal, Spain and Italy for example produce very good and delicious figs. Certain varieties, but not all varieties, will happily crop in the open, in the garden, even in Northern European countries such as the UK. However where in the garden? If you know the spot in the garden which is most sheltered and sunniest, that’s where the fig tree will perform best. Do not plant the fig tree in a cold, wet or damp place. You will be disappointed if you do! Basically if you get the spot right and you plant the tree in a container, then growing figs will be a lot easier. Growing figs in a cold greenhouse is of course great. But red spider mite can be nuisance.
If you plant the fig tree in a container with wheels then you can store the fig tree from November onwards in a garage or a shed, to avoid frost damage to the tips of the shoots. It is the tips of the shoots which will produce next year’s crop. If the tree is left outside during the winter months. it is best to wrap a double layer of garden fleece around the main branches to stop the tips of the branches being damaged by winter frosts.
It is possible to bury the container as long as the rim of the top of the container stays just above ground level. Provided you water the fig tree very regularly, you can start the tree off in a reasonably small container, for example 35 cm diameter. Always make sure the container has good-sized drainage holes. Repot the tree after a couple of years to a bigger pot. You can do this several times. Growing the tree in a pot controls excessive shoot growth, while retaining regular crops of figs. Use soil-based compost such as John Innes compost number 3. Always choose a pot or a container which is the same width at the top as at the bottom. These type of pots are more stable, when the wind blows. All the same, trees in pots are best secured to a wall or a post to prevent them from blowing over and the pot being broken or the tree being damaged.
Always remove the late-developing figs before the winter arrives. In the UK, this second crop of figs will only ripen if the tree is grown in a greenhouse. Feed the tree in moderation to ensure healthy green leaves. If fig trees in containers are left to dry out, the leaves and the crop will fall. It won’t kill the tree immediately, but you will have lost the crop for that season.
Top ten fig tips
The best time to plant a fig tree is from November to March.
1) If it is to be trained against a wall, erect a support frame.
2 ) Prune in April and feed with “Growmore”.
3) Prune back new growth to a 5-leaf length in June.
4) Continue to water weekly. Approximately 5 litres/week from May onwards.
5) From November to April, protect new growth against frost with a double layer of garden fleece. This protects the mini pea-size figs.
6) If you like figs annually, then you will have to plant the tree in a container 45 cm in diameter and at least 40 cm in depth, with good drainage holes, covered with broken terra cotta pots. A bigger container results in a bigger tree.
7) Keep the plant free from weeds and particularly grass.
8) Figs will appear at the new growth each year.
9) Drought conditions will kill the fig plant! However the more sun the better.
10) Recommended varieties are White Marseilles and Brown Turkey.
Greengages and the Armenian connection
Many people all over the world know the plum and consider these fruits nice to eat when mature and freshly picked. However, mention the word “greengage” and most people today have no idea of what you are talking about. And yet, as a type of plum, it is so delicate and flavourful that it is rightly considered as the most flavoursome of all the tree fruits known.
Let us compare the greengage with other fruits grown in the moderate climate zone. In a ranking of soft fruits, many would consider the raspberry to be at the top. Of all the fruits grown on trees, the greengage is rightly considered as unsurpassed in delicacy and flavour, when freshly picked and fully mature . So why are these trees and their fruits not better known? Why are these fruits, when in season, not more regularly available in modern supermarkets? In France and Italy it is more widely available on street markets when in season, but not in supermarket outlets.
In the UK, this special plum is known as a Greengage. If you spoke to people in Holland, for example, about this fruit, they wouldn’t know what you are talking about!
There are several reasons for this relative obscurity. One of the reasons is that this particular group of plums is only commercially success for a very small band of dedicated fruit growers, wherever they are grown. However if grown with plenty of TLC and dedication in the garden, the fruits are so special they need to be reserved for your own family and only the best of friends. If the crop is heavy, which is never the case 3 years in a row, it makes the most tasty of all jams.
Because of the quality of these fruits and my many years of experience of trying to grow these fruits, I consider it worthwhile to record my findings along with some historical background for these wonderful plums. The reader may want to skip various sections of this report. For that reason I will group the various details in a series of posts, as follows:
1) Historical background,
2) The most suitable sites for these plums,
3) Most suitable soils and their maintenance,
4) The different varieties available,
5) The essentials of growing these varieties,
6) The pruning needs of these plums,
7) Successful control of the pests and diseases.
The historical background of the greengage
Many people think that the greengage is a real English type of fruit. Often people are puzzled why it is so difficult to grow regular crops of greengages. The real reason is that the home of this delicious fruit variety was originally in the country of Armenia. Smallholdings there often had some of these trees, and the fruit was used simply to meet the families’ needs. But already by the 15th century these fruits were sold – often dried, so they would keep longer – to passing traders en route to the West to sell their silk fabrics. In addition to greengages, fruits such as dates, nuts and almonds were also sold.
This trading route was known as the Silk Road, connecting China, Central Asia, the Balkans, including Georgia and Armenia, to the West of Europe.
In this way, the greengage arrived in Greece around 1500, Italy around 1600, and France in about 1700. During the reign of King Francis I, in the 18th century, the fruits were introduced to Claude, the queen. She was delighted with these small, delicious fruits, and they became known as the Reine Claude variety. An English nobleman named Sir Thomas Gage, visiting France at that time, was equally delighted with the flavour of these fruits. So he introduced the fruits to England and renamed them after himself. The name stuck and so today this type of fruit, green to golden in colour, is still known in the UK as the “GREEN GAGE”.
So why are these little fruits so outstanding, flavour-wise? In my view, this is directly related to where these types of fruit were developed in ancient times. Armenia, which is situated between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, has an ideal fruit-growing climate, with cold winters and warm dry summers. The particular sweetness of the fruit, now firmly established in the greengage’s genetic make-up, is a result of adaptation to the warm and dry summer climatic conditions.
Although fruit tree grafting was already practiced as early as the eighth and ninth centuries, the reproduction of the greengage type of plum took place by simply planting the stones of these fruits. It is for this reason that the true greengage has not lost its delicate sweetness, unrivalled by any other fruit. But the successful growing of greengages in England is a real challenge.
Medlars are beautiful, but unfortunately largely forgotten trees. This is such a pity as these trees are so easy to grow and totally undemanding. The big white flowers are very eye-catching in the early spring. The tree itself is of moderate size and very easy to grow. Apart from keeping an area of about 1 square yard around the base of the trees free from grass and weeds during the first two years, after that you do not need to do anything, as the tree is then totally capable of looking after itself.
But then the fruit! People say to me… what do you do with it? Well this is the story.
When everything else in the fruit line has been gathered up, stored or eaten, it is then that you should to go to your medlar tree and see if the fruits are ready to pick. The biggest mistake with medlars is that the fruits are picked TOO EARLY. In general, the right time to pick medlars is towards the end of November. If you pick medlars too early, the taste and soft texture does not develop properly. You will know when the fruits are ready to pick, when a brown spot appears on some of the fruits, and gradually gets bigger, while the fruits are still on the tree. Then test the flavour of the Nottingham Medlar: squeeze the fruit, suck it, and a soft texture of the fruit means that it is ready to pick. If the texture is still dry it is not ready yet. Do not pick all the fruits in one go, as the fruits ripen over a period of approximately 14 days. When lovely and soft, it is ready for the preparation of various Medlar dishes in the kitchen.
My grandfather had a tree in his garden. While he was digging his garden, as a little boy I kept out of harm’s way by eating his medlars. Delicious they were too!!
In winter, the first signs of life of the new growing season can often be seen in hedgerows, when the catkins of hazel nut trees begin to appear.
The male catkins shed their yellow pollen into the wind. The female flowers, which, like the catkins, also appear on last year’s wood, are much smaller and reddish in colour. Cross fertilisation is essential in order to achieve fruit set. If you have a few hazels in your garden – cultivated hazelnuts are also called cobnuts or filberts – it is therefore very important not to start pruning too early, so that you give time for the male catkins to do their job. March is therefore the best month for pruning. The objective of pruning is to achieve a general thinning of those branches that are too close one to another, and the removal of very strong surplus shoots.
If you would like to plant new cobnuts, the best time is February. You should plant at least 2 different varieties. Trees should be spaced anything from 7 to 10 feet apart, depending on soil depth and quality. Cobnuts are usually ready to harvest around St. Philibert’s Day, which is the 20th of August (and this is the reason why hazel nuts are sometimes called filberts).
Regarding the site, good drainage and a sunny aspect are a real help. Rich soil should be avoided, as this tends to produce excessive growth. As flowering takes place during February, some shelter from north and north-east winds is a help to achieve regular fruit set.
Raspberry canes are reliable croppers, provided the soil is not waterlogged, the canes are supported and the plants are not short of water during the growing season.
For that reason we advise you to mulch the canes, supplying them adequately with well-rotted farmyard manure.
Plant from November to March, best if earlier, in winter, so that the root system has time to develop. Always plant the canes on ridges of 40 cm width and 20 cm height. The top roots need to be an inch below soil level. Newly-planted canes need to be cut back 6 to 12 inches, above soil level.
In June, cut all surplus cane back to ground level. Leave 4 to 6 of the strongest canes per plant.
Summer-cropping raspberry canes crop the following year. Autumn raspberries crop on the current’s year cane growth.
In January, cut back autumn raspberry canes to 3” from ground level.
On summer-cropping raspberries, cut out all canes which had a crop.
Do this as soon as the picking season is over.
Raspberries are a wonderful crop to grow. The soil preparations before planting are fundamental in ensuring that the canes grow well. The following points are of great importance:
1) Raspberries hate to be waterlogged. Make sure that every season, surplus water will disappear from the root zone, within 48 hours.
2) Never let your raspberries go short of water during the summer months. Roots will explore up to a depth of soil of 60 cm.
3) Organic matter on an annual basis is a fantastic tonic to the plants. Well-rotted straw-based farmyard manure is ideal. Spread it on either side of the canes, without touching the canes. Mulch the canes to stop weeds from competing for moisture.
4) Plant the canes 40 to 45 cm apart. Use potted canes, or rootwrap instead of bare-root canes. The roots of raspberry canes dry out very quickly if bare-rooted, during unfavourable dry weather conditions.
5) If the canes are growing well, do not let them swing about in the wind. Give the canes good support and tie them from 50 cm and upwards on to horizontal plastic-covered wires. Or you can lead the new growth between 2 horizontal wires, kept apart by short spacers, which are firmly fitted to the vertical stakes.
6) Only use healthy virus-free canes.
Tree variety index with descriptions
Please click on the varieties below to see a photo and description of the variety on our blog pages:
Cider Apple Varieties:
Pear Tree Varieties:
Other Ornamental Trees:
Morus nigra – mulberry tree, producing edible fruit