Most people think that they haven’t got room to grow fruit in their gardens. Or that the birds will eat it before they do. Some say they’d rather grow flowers because they’re prettier. But here’s why these people are wrong . . .
Beginners can successfully grow a good crop of pears, apples, plums, figs, cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, grapes, raspberries, kiwi berries, currants, blackberries, blueberries, gooseberries, and strawberries . . . even in a small space.
That’s a lot of fruit. Excluding bananas, avocado and citrus, I reckon most people would be happy with that as a replacement for their usual supermarket fruit aisle. Collectively these crops produce thousands of flowers just begging to be pollinated – keeping the bees thriving and looking pretty! Most people would gladly grow an ornamental cherry or crab apple in their gardens? So why not grow a tree that delivers not only the blossom and autumn leaf colour, but an edible crop on top? The architectural foliage of a fig, the autumn leaf colour of a grape, cherry or blueberry, the billowy blossom of an apple, peach or blackberry – it’s all there for the taking, along with a truly delicious bounty.
Here comes the practical part. The sweeter the fruit tastes, the more sun it will need. Therefore grapes, kiwi berries, strawberries, figs, apricots, nectarines, peaches, greengages and cherries are ideal for suntrap gardens. Grapes and kiwi berries can ramble over archways, strawberries can nestle in pots or vertical plant pouches, and the remaining trees on the list are ideal candidates for fan-training.
Fan-training is easy peasy – absolutely nothing to worry about. You just splay all the branches evenly out against a wall, like an outstretched hand. As the years pass, cut out some of the old bits and tie in some new bits. And you’re done. Head to YouTube for some good tutorials. The idea is that the sun can then easily reach and ripen the fruits which in turn boosts their sugar levels. The walled kitchen garden at my work place is smothered in wall-trained trees. They’re a great space-saver too, growing no more than 25cm away from the wall. And if you don’t have a fancy walled garden to fan-train fruit – it will do just as well against a shed or garage wall.
Tarter fruits such as currants, gooseberries, raspberries and morello cherries are happier in more shady areas. They can all be fan trained too. Fixing horizontal wires to the supports makes for easy training, and don’t forget to utilise any vertical spaces offered by shed or garage walls. Whenever you choose any tree or bush, opt for a compact variety if space is an issue. Some varieties such as blackcurrant ‘Ben Sarek’ and raspberry ‘Ruby Beauty’ are naturally small, which makes them ideal for pot culture. Others, like apples, pears, cherries and plums can be bought on dwarfing rootstocks which also helps keep trees to a manageable size.
As I mention apples and pears, I should also bring in another training method – the cordon. Don’t panic: it’s essentially a single vertical stem – that’s it. Many fruits (including most apples and pears, along with red/whitecurrants, gooseberries, cherries and plums) crop in such a way that they can be trained like a pole. Often they’re sold as “minarette” trees in fruit catalogues. Growing to head height and no wider than 40cm, you can create an impressive collection of varieties in a narrow 3m bed, or grow them in pots. Pruning consists of snipping back any new sideshoots to 10cm in July.
Growing in pots is as popular as ever, and all the fruits in that impressive list at the start can be grown in containers. Good compost is vital – a loam-based John Innes blend holds its structure and nutritional status far better than multipurpose compost over the years. Thick, glazed or non-porous walls insulate roots from extremes of heat and chill, plus they retain moisture well. The larger the container the better, however tempting it is to grow a broad range in lots of little pots.
A final note on pollination – for maximum space efficiency, choose self-fertile varieties wherever you can. These set fruit on their own without the need for an additional pollinating plant. All the crops I’ve listed bar apples, pears, plums, cherries, kiwi berries and blueberries are totally self-fertile, so that’s easy. And there are self-fertile varieties of apples, pears, plums, cherries, kiwi berries and blueberries, too. So come on, take the plunge into fruit growing and you’re only regret will be why you didn’t do it sooner.