Growing Unusual Fruits, Berries and Nuts
BEYOND THE FRUIT BOWL
Once you have mastered growing the more common fruit crops you can turn your attention to the less usual ones such as apricots, peaches, nectarines and grapes, which need a favourable site and a little encouragement to be reliably productive, or those like mulberries and medlars which you can’t buy in the shops since they have ‘an acquired taste’.
Apricots, apart from their decorative value, are well worth growing for fruit and taste quite different from the familiar tinned or dried products. Like peaches and their smooth-skinned variants — nectarines — they are best fan-trained against a south-facing wall where they can be protected from spring frosts — the main problem with any early-flowering crop.
If you haven’t a south-facing wall, try growing these fruits in pots on the patio where the frost risk is less and where they could be covered if necessary. Whichever method you adopt, choose St Julien A rootstock which will prevent the tree from becoming too vigorous and induce it to crop early. Apricots, peaches and nectarines are all self-fertile so you don’t need to plant separate pollinator varieties. Two of the best and most reliable apricot varieties are ‘Farmingdale’ and ‘Moorpark’, both of which will produce heavy crops of delicious golden fruit in August. There are several varieties of peach to tempt us but I find ‘Peregrine’ one of the best flavoured and ‘Rochester’ one of the hardiest and most reliable. There are not so many nectarine varieties to choose from but one that is well worth looking out for is ‘Early Rivers’ which ripens towards the end of July and has a particularly rich juicy flavour. For heavy cropping, ‘Lord Napier’ and ‘Humboldt’ are two of the best varieties with quite a rich flavour but not quite up to ‘Early Rivers’. All of these peach and nectarine varieties can also be grown in the glasshouse where they are easier to protect from frost and peach leaf curl.
Figs, apart from their decorative qualities, are one of the most delicious fruits when picked straight from the tree. In the tropics figs can crop three times a year but in temperate regions we have to be satisfied with only one crop. In Britain we don’t depend on insects pollinating the flowers as the fruits develop without pollination and fertilization, so single trees can be planted. Figs like plenty of space if they are to flourish as bushes and fruit well. If you can’t afford to give them much room, they should still fruit well enough in a large pot, given regular feeds and plenty of water.
‘Brown Turkey’ is a popular heavy-cropping variety that produces delicious red-fleshed rich fruits whilst ‘White Marseilles’ is a transparent-fleshed variety with a pale skin which is quite reliable in our climate. Both are also suitable for glasshouse cultivation, but if you have a glasshouse try ‘Bourjasotte Grise’, one of the sweetest and most richly flavoured of all figs.
Quinces and medlars, as well as being ornamental, produce very interesting fruits. Quinces grown for their fruit belong to the genus Cydonia (not to be confused with the ornamental Japanese quinces belonging to the genus). When grown in this country they do not ripen as they do around the Mediterranean and so are not generally eaten as fresh fruit. They do, however, make delicious jelly, preserves and marmalade.
Medlars also make a fine jelly but their reputation as a connoisseur’s fruit is based on the flavour of the over-ripe or ‘bletted’ fruits when they are eaten after the flesh has become very soft and brown. Neither quinces nor medlars require pollinator varieties so you can easily start off with just one tree of each. The most popular and reliable quince variety is ‘Vranja’ which produces large pear-shaped fruits, even from young trees. Two medlar varieties that are often grown are ‘Dutch’, which makes a weeping tree and has pleasantly flavoured fruits, and ‘Royal’ which is more upright and produces heavy crops of smaller but better-flavoured fruits.
NUTS AND BERRIES
Nuts are not commonly grown in gardens nowadays but are worth considering if you have room. Cobnuts and filberts don’t require much space but walnuts and sweet chestnuts certainly do, and with these you’ll have to wait five or ten years before you get much of a crop. For really good flavour try the ‘Franquette’ or ‘Mayette’ walnuts and the ‘Dore du Lyons’ chestnut.
Cobnuts and filberts make pleasant specimen trees or bushes and are also useful as windbreaks. ‘Kentish Cob’ is the best-known variety in this country and produces heavy crops of long large nuts. Two better-flavoured varieties are ‘Purple Filbert’ and ‘Red Filbert’; the former is very attractive with long dark red catkins and nuts with purple husks.
There are several soft fruits that are not commonly grown, such as ‘hybrid berries’ — which are relatives of the blackberry — blueberries and mulberries. Most hybrid berries are less vigorous than blackberries and some don’t have thorns. Loganberries are included in this group, two clones of which are popular with gardeners: LY59 which has thorns and L 654 which hasn’t. Both crop heavily and the fruits can be eaten fresh, frozen, or made into jam. A new hybrid berry, recently bred at the Scottish Crop Research Institute, is the ‘Tayberry’ which crops very heavily having fruits similar to those of the loganberry but with a mildly sweet flavour. All hybrid berries are grown like blackberries — along horizontal wires or up a fence.
Blueberries are easy to grow as long as theis sufficiently acid (pH 4.0-5.5). Varieties that do well in my garden include ‘Early Blue’, ‘Bluecrop’ and ‘Jersey’. All produce heavy crops of large blue fruits which are excellent for pies although the flavour is weaker than that of the wild bilberry.
A fruit that is similar in appearance to loganberries is the mulberry. Mulberries are usually grown as large specimen trees inwhere they make a fine sight, even if propped up in old age. For fruit production though, it’s better to grow them against a wall or fence with horizontal branches every 50cm (20in); here they are much easier to protect from birds which otherwise devastate the crop.