Over the past few years there has been a major resurgence of interest in vegetable growing on as people discover the joys and health benefits of home grown food for the table but you can add more interest to your ‘five portions a day’ by growing apples or pears. Forget any ideas of giant unmanageable fruit trees in old orchards, they can be grown as espaliers, cordons or pyramid trees in very little space. The best time for planting is now, between leaf fall and bud burst, there are plenty of specialist fruit nurseries and the internet makes buying easy, so what are you waiting for! Over the past few years I’ve been creating an orchard of ‘cordon’ apples within rectangular frames, they are planted at an angle of 45 degrees, supported by wires and are perfect for a sunny fence or as a ‘living’ boundary within the garden. The idea was to keep the area inside the frames closely mown as a ‘formal’ area while the outer part is treated as a wildflower meadow; however due to constraints of time this year, the margins became rather blurred! There’s thirty apple varieties in the collection chosen for their flavour and eating time, from August to storage late the following year and have been planted so the earliest flowering varieties are unaffected by the shadow of our bungalow early in the year and are growing in a south facing site.
Apples don’t just taste of apple! ‘Brownlees Russet’, prized by the Edwardians for its beautiful blossom was bred in Hemel Hempstead only a few miles from where I live and tastes of fruit drops, ‘Thomas Rivers’ a cooker tastes of pear and ‘Reinette Rouge Etoilee’ of raspberry while ‘Scrumptious’ is rich and honeyed and ‘Golden Pippin’ with a lemony tang, was used in the past for ‘Pippin’ jelly, tarts and cider or poached whole. They are taking a while to become established and not all have been a success, ‘Claygate Pearmain’ has died and will be replaced by ‘Ashmead’s Kernel’ a wonderful Gloucestershire variety which have only been planted for three years and are still becoming established so there is plenty to look forward to. Cider apple ‘Morgan Sweet’ and ‘Perry’ pear are being carefully nurtured too ready for my own home brew!
It is time to select your vegetable seeds too, check the internet for some excellent deals from smaller companies offering more unusual varieties. The standard principle applies, use them or lose them! Many companies advertise in the back of the gardening magazines which make an ideal starting point for your search.
Helleborus nigra, the ‘Christmas Rose’ rarely flowers at Christmas without some encouragement, cover the blooms with cloches, pot them up and put them in the greenhouse or a sunny windowsill.
Finally, remember to build your bonfire for ‘Guy Fawkes’ night as late as possible to prevent hedgehogs from taking up residence and use the opportunity to burn any diseased plant debris that doesn’t compost readily or hasn’t been put in your local authority recycling bin.