Although ‘Growing your own’ has ignited an unprecedented interest in vegetable growing, a fascination for fruit is taking a little longer. Sales are increasing slowly but people still believe that growing fruit is too challenging – birds steal the crops, lists of pollination partners are incomprehensible, and pruning, an impossible mystery to all but the ‘green fingered’. People forget that it’s easy to net your crops, there are lists of pollination partners on the websites of fruit nurseries and that ordinary people pruned fruit for centuries without a University degree. Such is the forgiving nature of apples and pears, that a wrong cut will be remedied by new growth the following year. Now is a good time to plant apples and pears, so why not give it a go? Look for local varieties, or try something from your garden centre, it’s bound to stock a reliable variety like ‘Falstaff’ or ‘Grenadier’. Among the varieties I grow is ‘Brownlees Russet’ which was bred about six miles away in Hemel Hempstead but it was even more exciting to discover ‘Hambling’s Seedling’ a Bedfordshire culinary variety, a few weeks ago, that was bred a similar distance away, in 1894, for sale on the East of England Apples and Orchards Project website. Joan Morgan’s new Book of Apples says it was raised by Major W J Hambling, Dunstable, Beds. Introduced in 1894 by G. Bunyard, Maidstone, Kent and received an RHS First Class Certificate in 1893. It has some richness, plenty of acidity, cooks to well flavoured, sweet golden puree and is early in season. There is almost certainly a similar pomological treasure to be found where you live. This image of ‘Ellison’s Orange’ is here to tempt you! If soft fruit is more your scene, why not take some hardwood cuttings from a friend or plant some gooseberries or blackcurrants before Christmas while the soil is still warm.
Hardwood cuttings are easy to take in the dormant season – no specialist equipment is needed. They root most successfully just after leaf fall but results are excellent any time, until just before bud burst in spring and are last successful early in the New Year. Use this year’s pale coloured growth and remove the thorns from gooseberries for easier handling, plus all but the top three buds so they grow on a ‘leg’ to ensure good air circulation, reducing the chance of mildew. Make a sloping cut just above the top bud and a horizontal cut below a bud at the base too, so you don’t plant them upside down! Preparing the soil is simple. Fork over the area then dig a shallow trench with one straight side adding 1” of sharp sand or grit to the bottom, so one bud is at soil level and two well above. Each 12” cutting is spaced 6” apart, before firming the soil around them, taking care not to damage the buds. Lightly fork over the soil where you’ve been standing and label the row with the cultivar name and date when the cuttings were taken. Check them regularly throughout the winter, gently firming the surrounding soil if it’s been lifted by frost. Keep them well watered the following summer and lift carefully after leaf fall before transplanting to their final position or as is more likely, to give as gifts to friends.
Happy gardening, happy Christmas and happy New Year!
Take care of yourselves, Matt