Fruit Trees that are Lovely to Look At
PRetty Fruit Trees
The massed blossom of an orchard is one of the delights of spring but the effect, alas, is shortlived; and once the petals start to fall the trees become quite dull until the fruits begin to colour. Sadly, many of the flowering apples, plums and cherries provide a very short, sharp burst of colour for a week or so in spring and nothing at all for the rest of the year. I will never understand why those ornamental varieties, often with sterile multi-petalled flowers of unnaturally vivid hues, are so popular. The showy, blowsy Prunus ‘Danzan’, for example, hasn’t much to offer the rest of the year. You would do better to settle down with a much more natural-fruiting variety whose subtle beauty and productivity will be far more satisfying.
Many fruiting varieties have attractive flowers, like the apples ‘Arthur Turner’ or ‘Brown-lees Russet’, as well as the more familiar ‘Bramley’s Seedling’. Individual flowers of some varieties of pear, plum and cherry may not be too exciting, but en masse, against a bright blue sky, they are fine.
Fruits particularly noted for their decorative flowers include the less common quinces and blueberries. Quince flowers are most attractive —they are larger than apple or pear and often have a subtle hint of pink. They show up particularly well against the bright green backdrop of the foliage and are followed by interestingly shaped fruits.
Blueberry flowers are similar in shape to those of heather, to which they are related, but instead of whites, pinks and reds, the flowers are a soft creamy colour often hanging down on arched stems. For ornamental value the blueberry must take some beating, for not only are the flowers attractive but the fruits and red autumn foliage are, too.
Leaves of many of the popular fruit varieties are not particularly interesting but those of some of the more exotic crops are. Figs, for example, have very ornamental leaves being quite large with three or five lobes. A fig growing against a light sandstone wall really shows off the foliage, as well as providing an abundance of delicious juicy fruits. You don’t have to have a wall for a fig though, you can easily grow them in pots. Surely an ideal plant for your patio to bring back memories of days lazing in the Mediterranean sun in the shade of the large lobed leaves. In some countries, the leaves of some fig species are smoked, along with opium, but that’s another story.
Apricots, too, have attractive leaves, albeit much smaller than those of fig. They are mid-green, almost leathery in appearance and again look particularly fine against a light-coloured wall. Apricot flowers are quite large and white, and some have a pink flush. They are produced in clusters, before the leaves come out, sometimes as early as February, when they are especially welcome.
Among the soft fruits, the-leaved or cut-leaved blackberry must be one of the favourites for decorative foliage. It is worthwhile planting it in ornamental beds on the strength of its distinctive leaves alone, and people who try this often decide to add to its numbers in the fruit garden as it produces quite heavy crops of sharp but excellently flavoured large berries.
The foliage of many trees and shrubs is spectacular in autumn but unfortunately only a few fruit plants can be included in this category. As well as those of blueberries, leaves of many grape vines turn in autumn to shades of red and purple — some consolation if the year’s crop is not up to expectation.
Most people’s idea of ornamental fruits is confined to crab apples, many of which produce prolific numbers of brightly coloured fruits. Two crabs that can be eaten — and look good — are ‘John Downie’ and ‘Witch’s Scarlet’, both of which have conical, bright orange and red fruits that glow in the low autumn sun and then drop, ready for gathering to make the most delicious clear-pink, crab-apple jelly.
Dessert apples that are particularly attractive to look at include ‘Gala’ with its bright orange fruits, ‘Greensleeves’ — a pleasantly shaped green apple with a clean skin, and ‘St Edmund’s Pippin’ — a partly russet apple with a bright orange flush. If you like red apples the early variety ‘Discovery’ is an attractive one, but if you prefer dark, almost blue-red fruits, try ‘Spartan’. Several culinary apples are fairly attractive, and one of the best is ‘Golden Noble’ with its round, yellow-gold fruits.
For most people, an attractive pear is a plump ‘Cornice’ with a pink flush. There are a few though that have red skins such as ‘Glow Red Williams’, which is available from a few nurseries and is worth considering if you want something a bit different.
People naturally have different ideas on what is attractive, and nowhere is this more true than with plums. If you like pale yellow fruits, ‘Early Transparent’ is a good one; whereas if you prefer dark blue plums, ‘Kirke’s’ is one of the best. Most people, however, like large red plums, so try the most attractive, ‘Pond’s Seedling’. But it is deceptive, for there is little else to commend it: its flavour is particularly weak. The opposite, of course, is true of greengages, being small and green and not visually attractive at all. The flavour though is outstanding.
Sweet cherries tend to be classified as either black or white. Depending on variety, ‘blacks’ can be anything from a very dark red through mahogany to jet black, and ‘whites’ can be pale yellow or cream to bright red. Three attractive ‘black’ varieties are ‘Van’, ‘Merton Bigarreau’ and ‘Stella’, while one of the very best ‘whites’ is ‘Merton Glory’ — a very large-fruited red variety.
I am sometimes asked if I can suggest a weeping fruit tree that can be grown, in the lawn perhaps, instead of the more usual purely ornamental Pyrus salicifolia pendula or Prunus avium pendula. There are several varieties of fruit tree that do tend to weep, such as ‘Merton Gem’ plum and ‘Catillac’ pear, but nowhere to the same extent as the ornamental weepers. Both of these varieties produce reasonable fruit. ‘Merton Gem’ is a self-fertile late plum with yellow and red fruits, which turn purple when fully ripe. In some years this variety produces a second flush of flowers which, if the weather is favourable, can give fruit well into October. ‘Catillac’ is a very old pear variety dating back to the fifteenth century. It produces large dull green, almost round fruits, which, when ripe, are excellent for stewing. These varieties have a natural tendency to weep but you can, depending on your idea of beauty, train many fruits to grow in different ways.
I have already briefly mentioned cordons, espaliers, fans, bush and standard trees which is the usual range of training systems from which gardeners in this country choose. There are many others, however, some of which you may have noticed on the Continent, particularly if you have visited chateaux gardens in France. You may have seen vase- or goblet-shaped pear trees and palmettes in a range of guises: with three, four or five vertical branches, or perhaps ‘Y’ shapes looking like giant catapults. The French also grow trees as espaliers and cordons but often modified to create some interesting forms, some pleasing, some a little curious. Recently I saw horizontal cordons of ‘Golden Delicious’ with the main stems just 40cm (16in) above the edge of a path in du Roy’s potager at Versailles; it was being used, like the more usual box, as an edging plant.