THE GOOD LIFE
Practical ideas and advice for would-be smallholders
FROM CHERRY TREES covered in blossom to the boughs of apple trees creaking under the weight of autumn fruit, there’s something wonderful about an orchard. You don’t need acres of land – by selecting the right varieties and cleverly using your space, you’ll soon be serving up apple crumbles, pear tarts, plum jam and cherry pies. October is the perfect month to plant your orchard, as bare root trees are available.
SELECTING THE FRUIT
Obviously, your starting point should be what you like eating, but it’s also good to think about what is trickier to find in the shops, such as greengages, traditional white cherries (actually bright red) and old-fashioned apple and pear varieties. One very important consideration is pollination. Some fruit trees are self-fertile (they don’t need pollen from another tree), but others, including many apple trees, require cross-pollination from a different cultivar that flowers at the same time. So you either need to have space for two trees (see below) or make sure a neighbour has a compatible tree.
CHOOSE YOUR ROOTS CAREFULLY
Most fruit trees aren’t grown on their own roots but are grafted onto another tree. It’s this ‘rootstock’ that determines the size, so if you’re short on space opt for dwarf rootstocks – something like an M27 rootstock on an apple tree, for example, will only grow to about 1.8m. Look out, too, for ‘family trees’, where two or three cultivars are grafted onto one rootstock. The result is one tree with different fruit on different branches – a great talking point, but also a practical way of growing a mixture of varieties that need each other for pollination.
GET IN SHAPE
Training trees into specific shapes not only saves space but maximises the fruit yield, too. Cordons are singlestemmed trees usually grown at an angle of 45°-60° against a wall. Espaliers have pairs of branches trained at right angles to the trunk – you can have as many tiers of branches as your wall allows. A single-layered espalier can be used at the edge of a border to form a ‘step-over’ – a row of these kneehigh trees makes a pretty alternative to box hedging.
TIP Container-grown trees (which are pricier) can be planted any time, but will require less watering if you get them in the ground now