The desire to grow fruit seems to have crept up on me unawares. When we first moved here, we inherited a relatively young, leaning apple tree of unknown variety and a selection of blackberry and common bramble – both wanted and unwanted! That was it really and for a couple of years nothing changed.
Our first venture towards fruit growing was to plant another apple tree – an Egremont Russet which I gave John one birthday as it’s always been his favourite variety. For the past couple of years we’ve had a reasonable crop helped, no doubt, by warm summers which enabled them to ripen properly.
At some point we took up an offer in the newspaper of free strawberry runners and planted these up in pots. They have fruited quite well but the plants are now quite old and, without filling the patio with even more strawberry pots, there’s really no way this is enough to produce a decent sized bowl of fruit. The desire to grow more strawberries and also to add raspberries was one of the main drivers for revamping our veg plot two years ago.
Our ‘Autumn Bliss’ raspberry canes came in the winter but, as soon as spring sprung, they shot away with bright green shoots. We erected poles and wire to support them, although not quite the sophisticated set up with tensioners and the like as seen on Gardeners’ World! Despite all the expert advice, we succumbed in year one and let them fruit – how can anyone possibly resist? Clearly it did them no harm whatsoever as in year two they not only reached for the skies but also started heading off across the lawn! Now this we hadn’t really anticipated. Everyone knows that bramble and blackberry is invasive but no one warns you about over enthusiastic raspberries! Just slice down the side to stop runners, is the expert advice. Well we did that but to no avail! They are determined to rule the world and we now spend considerable effort in removing them from where they are not wanted!
Last year, on the Friday before the May Bank Holiday my new strawberry runners arrived, perfect timing for planting over the weekend. Strawberry runners are just a mass of root with small signs of shorn back leaves and when they’ve arrived in a jiffy bag in the post, they look distinctly unpromising. However, I prepared my row as instructed, sprinkled some general fertiliser, spread out the runners and duly planted and watered in. With the warm sunshine, the following day they already looked settled and I could have sworn were showing more signs of green. The variety I chose was ‘Albion’ and produces fruits throughout the season from June until October – I have since learnt that this is what is known as an ‘everbearer’. There are so many varieties available, however, that it’s very hard to know whether you’ve chosen well. All the reviews suggest that this has excellent flavour but we’re not really convinced – the jury is still out. However as year 2 approaches, the strawberry plants have bushed out and are absolutely covered in flowers – I cannot wait to find out what happens next!
Meanwhile, our blueberry collection is growing. We grow these in pots as they require acid soil so would fare badly if planted in the relatively neutral soil of our garden. Two of our existing blueberry bushes were selected at random as offers in gardening magazines. One is a tall striking plant that produces lots of berries but also has striking red foliage in the autumn. The other is small and compact and has been less reliable on the fruit front. I have been on the lookout for another of the same variety as the tall one, ‘Chandler’, but it seems quite hard to track down. Two summers ago I became distracted in a garden centre by a new variety called ‘Sunshine Blue’. Another compact variety but bred for patio growing, it was absolutely laden with small pinkish flowers. I just couldn’t resist. It’s a self-polinating variety and produced a bumper crop before almost succumbing to being waterlogged. We have now spent a summer nursing it back to health and this spring it has flowers once more so we have our fingers crossed. However, unable to resist another of those magazine offers, we have three more juvenile blueberries that arrived only a couple of weeks ago and which have now been potted up into small pots as befits their current size.
Autumn holidays in France were responsible for us falling in love with the Mirabelle, that tiny yellow plum that packs a huge punch in terms of flavour. However, they are not often grown in the UK and it’s possible that we are beginning to discover why. Our Mirabelle tree, which has just spent its fourth Spring in our garden, flower in late March and produces a tiny delicate white blossom. The flowers eventually turn into small green berries and from then on in it’s a question of all fingers crossed for a tiny crop of plums. This is really exciting as it’s so hard to buy these as fruit in the UK. Occasionally a few boxes appear in M&S for a short period and also in the occasional select greengrocers but to have our own in the garden will be quite an achievement but so far we have had about six and, to be honest, we’ve probably picked them too early to ensure we ate them and not the birds. That said, keeping the tree alive and healthy is all we currently wish for. It seems particularly prone to some sort of leaf curl and eventually this causes die-back. We prune these branches out carefully and hope that they remain disease free. This spring it looks a little more confident but we just have to wait and see – there are no guarantees in the fruit world.
And talking of guarantees, our cherry plum keeps us guessing year on year. Often confused with mirabelle, the cherry plum produces small red fruits with deep gold flesh which is very, very sour! However, they do make excellent jam – particularly if you like your jam with a bit of ‘zing’! Three years ago we were inundated with cherry plums and produced pots and pots of jam but we’ve now had two fallow years. This spring the tree was covered in its delicate white blossom and we can see fruit forming so we have all fingers crossed.