Do you have per­fect peach?

Country Life Every Week - - In The Garden - Steven Des­mond Steven Des­mond is a free­lance land­scape con­sul­tant, spe­cial­is­ing in the con­ser­va­tion of his­toric gar­dens

THE peach is a lux­u­ri­ous fruit, an em­blem of sum­mer riches, which we sel­dom see in its true glory if we buy it from a shop. The al­ter­na­tive is to grow it our­selves. A well-grown glasshouse peach tree stretched out against a white­washed wall is an ar­rest­ing sight when the ripe fruits are evenly spaced along its branches. The scent is some­thing never to be for­got­ten. Once you taste your own ripe peach, there is no go­ing back.

Much of this glory can be em­u­lated on a tree grown out of doors if a few es­sen­tials are at­tended to. The cul­ti­va­tion regime is much the same, but there are nat­u­rally some vari­a­tions.

The first de­ci­sion is which cul­ti­var to choose. For a tree fan-trained against a wall, I suggest one of two tried and tested names. The first is Pere­grine, bred long ago by the fa­mous Rivers nurs­ery, one of a se­ries named af­ter birds of prey. It has proved its worth over the years in many parts of the coun­try and has the cov­eted Award of Gar­den Merit (AGM) from the RHS, a ti­tle whose worth is up­held by pe­ri­odic reap­praisal.

And what of the eat­ing qual­ity? Well, this is a white-fleshed peach, there­fore suitable for your home­made Bellini. No less a judge than Ed­ward Bun­yard wrote in 1933 that ‘if one peach only is to be grown, this would cer­tainly be my choice’. His judg­ment, in The Anatomy of Dessert, still car­ries weight. Or try good old Duke of York, also with its AGM, of which Bun­yard opined that ‘the skin is of a rich crim­son hue, and the pale green­ish-yel­low flesh melt­ing and re­fresh­ing’. Hmm.

In case you’re won­der­ing, every­thing that fol­lows re­lates equally to the nec­tarine, which, as Mr Bun­yard ob­served, is merely a peach that has lost its du­vet.

Choose your plant­ing site with care. The ideal spot is a south­west fac­ing brick wall of the kitchen-gar­den per­sua­sion. Most soils will do, although shal­low chalk will not. Re­mem­ber that fruit trees ex­ist to pro­vide fruit, not leaves, so ex­ces­sive fer­til­ity isn’t re­quired. Your tree will be trained as a fan and can read­ily be bought well on the way to that form. The branch struc­ture makes a beau­ti­ful pat­tern against the wall when the flow­ers ap­pear, strik­ingly bright pink like those of the al­mond.

At this point, alarm bells ring. Ev­ery­one knows that the al­mond’s pretty blos­som ap­pears some­time in late March or early April, when frost is in the air, and the same is true of the peach. This is why a south-west wall is favoured, on which the sun’s rays will not fall un­til the frost has thawed on the blooms. One ini­tially un­no­ticed side-ef­fect of frost dam­age on a peach tree is that it per­mits the spores of a no­to­ri­ous fun­gal dis­ease called peach leaf curl to en­ter the leaf tis­sues. This dis­fig­ur­ing dis­ease, whose red weals are fa­mil­iar to ev­ery out­door peach grower, can best be man­aged by adapt­ing the ex­cel­lent Vic­to­rian prac­tice of hang­ing a hes­sian cur­tain in front of the tree dur­ing frosty weather.

The mod­ern vari­a­tion on this theme in­volves con­struct­ing a sim­ple frame of tim­ber bat­tens to hold a sheet of clear, heavy­duty plas­tic 1ft in front of the trained tree, com­plete with a ‘roof’ joined to the wall. The base of the sheet is raised 1ft above ground level by another bat­ten. This con­trap­tion keeps frost off the plant tis­sues, pre­vents rain splash­back spread­ing the spores and al­lows cold air to flow away at the base.

When the fruits have set, there will be far too many, so a rou­tine thin­ning is re­quired. This is sim­ple enough. When the fruits have reached the size of peas, pick off the sur­plus to leave one fruit ev­ery 6in or so.

You will see that the flow­ers are borne on last year’s shoots, so the prun­ing regime con­sists of bring­ing on the new shoot from the base of each lat­eral branch and cut­ting the oth­ers back to a sin­gle leaf each. Af­ter the har­vest in Au­gust, the fruited wood is cut back to that re­place­ment shoot. By then, you will have rev­elled in juicy splen­dour for weeks, as the peach ripens its fruits suc­ces­sively over that pe­riod. Each year will be dif­fer­ent, but a few will be mem­o­rable.

Just think of all those peaches warm from your own tree. Mr Bun­yard sug­gests a glass of claret by way of ac­com­pa­ni­ment.

Next week: Spicy sumac

Just think of peaches warm from your own tree

Once you taste your own ripe peach, there is no go­ing back: Duke of York is ‘melt­ing and re­fresh­ing’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.