Friday, 13 April 2012

Mini orchard

The apple trees are planted – a milestone in our home. We’ve always known where we wanted them but somehow, with a rundown house to renovate, garden buildings to erect, borders to fill with flowers and the kitchen garden to fill with annual veg, it always slipped to the bottom of the list. Which is a shame because planting fruit trees really should be one of the first things you do when you move into a new house, partly for the practical reason that it will take a year or two before they bear fruit (the maturation period depends on the vigour of the rootstock; larger trees take longer to achieve their productive potential), but mainly because there’s nothing better than planting a fruit tree to make you feel as though you’ve put down roots. Quite literally.

I find it interesting why that should be – it’s wonderful to provide salad and vegetables from your own garden, but an apple or pear tree* provides a more permanent link to the land, and the opportunity to have one growing on your own little piece of the world is a privilege not to be taken for granted. To watch it grown and mature, to see its naked grey twigs clothed with young leaves in spring; to revel in outrageously generous blossom and finally - at last! - to pluck a fruit from the tree and taste your whole garden in one bite of its warm, swollen goodness as the juice runs down your hand. Now that’s a thing.

April lies toward the end of the season for planting bare-root trees, so I shall be relieved when our trees show some signs of life. We have chosen three varieties, each on the dwarf rootstock M27. This means that they’ll need permanent staking, reaching a maximum height of around six feet, but has the advantage for the impatient that they should fruit within a year or two. Firstly, we have opted for Blenheim Orange, a traditional dual purpose apple for cooking and eating, with crisp yellow flesh and large golden fruits striped with red. Known for its disgraceful sexual proclivities as a ‘triploid’ apple it needs to be pollinated by two other varieties, and all three should flower at a similar time for obvious reasons. So we also have the nutty Fiesta, a new strain developed at the East Malling Research station, similar to Cox’s Orange Pippin but, we are told, more reliable to grow, and Laxton’s Superb, which crops from November like the other two. All have excellent reputations for flavour – daft to chose something that doesn’t excel in this respect unless you’re only growing the fruit for throwing at people, and we don’t really have the space here for that, though I imagine some of the windfalls could be used for this purpose at a push. And of course, we have the neighbours’ Bramley which crops heavily on our side of the back fence.

So, our mini orchard is taking shape. Pears next, and an apricot for the south facing fence behind the cold frames. I fear this could become an addiction.

*Surely this should apply equally to cherries, plums and gages, but while I love them, I don’t seem to have the same emotional connection to stone fruits as I do to pome fruits. It’s a personal thing.