Now I know it’s summer!
My fingers are red with juice and the freezer is full of trays lined with the redcurrants, tayberries, loganberries and gooseberries I am squirrelling away by the kilo to enjoy at my leisure through summer.
It is fruit picking time and I am inundated with sweetness: there just seem to be more jewel-like berries every day. The loganberries, trained onto wires, are so smothered in berries I can barely keep up with picking; I have feasted on them, frozen them for later, and filled my shelves with jars of loganberry jam, and still they keep coming. The gooseberries are earmarked for gooseberry fool (quite my favourite pud) and I am planning a summer pudding with the redcurrants once the blackcurrants are ripe (any day now). Strawberries rarely make it as far as the kitchen, I’m afraid: gardener’s perks!
I’ve never understood why fruit is such an afterthought in most veg gardens. Perhaps it’s because we’re all so busy making sure we’ve sown enough peas, beans, carrots and lettuces we haven’t the energy to cater for puddings, too.
But it doesn’t do to take life too seriously, and everyone needs a treat now and again. Besides, growing fruit won’t tear you away from the veg patch for long: it’s wonderfully low-maintenance as you plant it once and pick it for years. Even the aftercare is minimal: I spend about an hour pruning in summer, plus another hour in winter, plus a little feeding and mulching in spring.
Fruit also suffers from big garden syndrome. Most gardeners, when you mention fruit, start thinking of expansive orchards of gnarled apple trees and palatial fruit cages, great stands of raspberries and head-high gooseberry bushes.
But you can still grow fruit even if your outdoor space is on the bijou side – and sometimes even if you don’t have a garden at all. Here are a few suggestions:
Train currants against a wall: Set up a frame of wires, about 45cm (18”) apart, and you can train cane fruit like loganberries, tayberries and blackberries, as well as bush fruit like gooseberries, whitecurrants and redcurrants flat, taking up hardly any room on the ground. Just select your main stem(s), which will make the framework, and prune out anything heading in towards the fence or outwards away from it. Shorten sideshoots to 2-3 buds in summer and that’s it! Berries ripen easier, as they’re exposed to the sun, and gooseberries trained this way tend to suffer less from sawfly, too.
Apple espaliers and stepovers: Even big tree fruit like apples and pears can squeeze into a small garden without taking up much space if you grow them as espaliers, with branches trained out sideways on to wires like a ladder. A stepover is just like an espalier, but with only one rung to the ladder so it’s only about 45-60cm (18”-2ft) above ground – they make lovely (and productive!) edging.
Fan train cherries and plums: The growing habits of stone fruits lend themselves to fan training, in which branches are splayed out flat across a framework of wires in a fan. It looks complicated, but it’s actually fairly straightforward: prune out the leader in the first year to just above a pair of buds, which then grow to become the main branches. Then tie in suitable side branches each summer to build up your fan shape. Established fans look very beautiful and can be really productive, too.
Grow in containers: Lots of fruit enjoys container life – in some cases, they do better than in the ground. Acid-loving blueberries, for example, hate growing in neutral or alkaline soil but thrive in ericaceous (acidic) compost in a pot. Strawberries stay slug-free in containers, and ripen better (especially if your container is heat-absorbing clay). And there are now container varieties for quite large fruit including Raspberry ‘Ruby Beauty’ and two blackberries: ‘Opal’, just 60cm (2ft) tall, and ‘Black Cascade’, bred to grow happily in hanging baskets – no garden required!
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