Monty grows fruit in small spaces

Fruit in pots is the per­fect way to grow your own or­chard, what­ever the size of your plot. Monty ex­plains how

Gardeners' World - - Contents -

There was a brief time when we were a two-dish­washer fam­ily. I think my ears would bleed if I as­pired to such dizzy heights of af­flu­ence now, but I have not es­caped the as­pi­ra­tional, con­sumer- hun­gry world com­pletely be­cause we are now a two- or­chard house­hold. Look on and dream, ye lesser mor­tals, for of such abun­dance Eden is made. Well, sort of. One or­chard was planted 20 years ago and is reach­ing a kind of ma­tu­rity dom­i­nated by ap­ple trees on stan­dard and semi-stan­dard root­stocks – MM111 and MM106 – set in grass filled with nar­cissi bulbs in spring, then al­lowed to grow long and float with cow pars­ley and lesser hem­lock be­fore hav­ing a weekly trim un­til au­tumn. From time to time we have had lambs graz­ing be­neath the trees and once, rather de­struc­tively, three splen­did pigs. There are also flower beds, a soft fruit area, bee hives, a chicken run (alas, no chick­ens at the mo­ment) and a cou­ple of sheds. It is a ‘proper place’, com­plete unto it­self, bounded by tall hedges that lead to fields be­yond. It is lovely, lux­u­ri­ous and takes up the kind of space that only a gen­er­ous coun­try gar­den can af­ford to spare. The other or­chard is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. It is a glo­ri­ously mixed ar­ray, in­clud­ing plums, le­mons, or­anges, blue­ber­ries, a wal­nut, an apri­cot, mul­ber­ries, ap­ples and a cou­ple of olive trees. The big­gest of these is 1.5m (5ft) tall and the av­er­age size a lot less than that. Ev­ery tree and bush is grow­ing in a pot, and these are all sit­ting on paving slabs. It is a move­able, dwarf, adapt­able and com­pletely en­tranc­ing lit­tle or­chard, as dif­fer­ent from the other as might be imag­ined. The fruit that it pro­duces, how­ever, is real enough and, in its fully formed ma­tu­rity, as good as that of any full-sized tree. We of­ten sing the praises of home-grown veg but do not, in my opin­ion, do enough to cel­e­brate the joys of fruit grown at home and eaten ab­so­lutely ripe and in its true sea­son. It is

life-en­hanc­ing and these dwarf trees make it pos­si­ble for any­one with a back­yard, bal­cony, or even a front doorstep wide enough to ac­com­mo­date a cou­ple of medium-sized pots to grow fruit on real trees, al­beit minia­ture ones. The tech­niques that make this pos­si­ble are based on choice of root­stocks and plant breed­ing rather than any cul­ti­va­tion or prun­ing se­crets. You can, of course, train fruit trees in lots of very re­stricted ways such as cor­dons, es­paliers, step-overs and fans, which are ideal when space is at a premium. But they need soil to grow in and per­ma­nent sup­port, as well as reg­u­lar and knowl­edge­able prun­ing. The dwarf fruit trees that are in­creas­ingly avail­able are de­signed to be grown in containers and prun­ing can be kept to a min­i­mum.

Root­stock va­ri­ety

For a long time, ap­ples have been avail­able grown on very dwarf­ing root­stocks, such as M27, that will reach a max­i­mum height fully grown of no more than 1.8m (6ft). Pears are slightly larger, but on Quince ‘C’ root­stock can be re­stricted to about 2.5m ( 8ft) – though pears are tra­di­tion­ally re­stricted by train­ing rather than cul­ti­va­tion. I have them grow­ing as es­paliers and sin­gle cor­dons and both carry good fruit. The dwarf wal­nut ‘Kar­lik’ that I am now grow­ing has been bred from dwarf­ing va­ri­eties, such as ‘Lara’ and ‘Europa’, to grow lit­tle more than 1.8m ( 6ft) af­ter 20 years. How­ever, the nuts are full sized and, by all ac­counts, in­dis­tin­guish­able in taste from the largest wal­nut tree. They are self-pol­li­nat­ing, so a solo tree should pro­duce fruit in the sec­ond or third year. Grow­ing wal­nuts in a pot has another great ad­van­tage for the small gar­den be­cause wal­nuts, and es­pe­cially their roots, give off ju­glone, a toxin that re­stricts the growth of other nearby plants, with ap­ples par­tic­u­larly sus­cep­ti­ble. It is an evo­lu­tion­ary trick that al­lows a wal­nut the light and space it craves but does lit­tle for your fruit col­lec­tion. Grow the wal­nut in a con­tainer and those tox­ins are con­tained too, so it can sit in the same small space with an ap­ple. Last year, I tried grow­ing apri­cots in pots and these were killed by canker as a re­sult of one very cold night last De­cem­ber. I have now pot ted up a dwarf apr icot ‘Apri­com­pakt’, a cul­ti­var that is self-fer­tile and hardy. Nev­er­the­less, be­cause it is cur­rently so small, at barely 1m (3ft), bushy and ready to bear fruit next year, I shall be able to bring it in­doors along with the cit­rus when the weather turns spite­ful this win­ter. The mul­berry ‘Char­lotte Russe’ was the 2017 Chelsea Plant of the Year and has the dis­tinc­tion of be­ing no more than 1.5m (5ft) tall when fully grown. Mul­ber­ries (and figs) are un­usual in that they are not grafted onto root­stocks but grown from

back­yard, “Any­one with a a front bal­cony, or even w fruit doorstep can gro on real trees ”

cut­tings, so ‘Char­lotte Russe’ is nat­u­rally dwarf­ing. It claims to fruit in its sec­ond year, al­though I got mine last au­tumn and haven’t yet seen a hint of fruit. It was so alarm­ingly late into any signs of growth this year that I was all but ready to shred what seemed to be a strag­gle of dry sticks in May, but fi­nally it burst into life in June. I have read neg­a­tive re­ports about the flavour of the fruit but will wait to make my own judge­ment when it fi­nally de­cides to pro­duce some. Co­in­ci­den­tally, I planted a full-size black mul­berry last year too, in the or­chard among the ap­ples, so it will be in­ter­est­ing to com­pare and con­trast the fruit of the two.

The acid­ity test

I grow blue­ber­ries in pots, both as shrubs and as stan­dard trees or ‘lol­lipops’, be­cause that is the only op­tion for me. Down the road from Long­meadow is a soft fruit fac­tory farm rais­ing straw­ber­ries un­der vast acres of poly­thene, as wel l as blue­ber­ries in pots in the open air. Ap­par­ently, it is big busi­ness but the blue­ber­ries all have to be in pots even on that huge scale be­cause they need acidic soil to sur­vive, let alone thrive, and pro­vide their de­li­cious berries for break­fast. If your soil is al­ka­line or neu­tral, as mine is, then you can use a peat-free er­i­ca­ceous com­post (there is ab­so­lutely no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion or need to use peat for this). A com­post made from pine bark or bracken does equally well. This, then, is one of the great­est ad­van­tages of grow­ing a fruit per­ma­nently in a con­tainer – rais­ing some­thing that would oth­er­wise be un­avail­able to you.

A strag­gle of dry sticks in May, it fi­nally burst into life in June

Monty’s Mul­berry ‘Char­lotte Russe’ is nat­u­rally dwarf­ing and is grown from cut­tings rather than on grafted root­stock

Fruit grown in pots needs reg­u­lar feed­ing with a high-potash feed such as seaweed, tomato or home-made com­frey feed

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