Plan, prepare then plant

Plan, prepare then plant | In Fiona's Garden

Life & Style
A dwarf Nashi pear in one corner of Fiona and Bill's small orchard planted last winter.

A dwarf Nashi pear in one corner of Fiona and Bill's small orchard planted last winter.

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The best piece of advice I was given right at the get-go was to order trees on dwarf rootstock, as they are far easier to prune and harvest than bigger trees.

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A FORECAST of early fog and frost on the tablelands was a handy reminder to cover my dwarf Meyer lemon tree.

The Meyer is the most frost tolerant of all lemons, but with a young tree you don't like taking chances.

The lemon is part of a small orchard we planted last winter.

We'd long wanted a proper orchard and lockdown gave us time to plan, prepare the ground and plant.

The best piece of advice I was given right at the get-go was to order trees on dwarf rootstock, as they are far easier to prune and harvest than bigger trees.

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Netting to protect from birds is almost impossible with the latter but easy with tiddlers, the fruit is the same, and you need much less ground.

Novelist John Fowles, he of The French Lieutenant's Woman, gives a poignant description of an orchard in The Tree (1979).

His childhood home's tiny back garden was crammed with cordon and espalier apple and pear trees, lovingly planted, pruned and cosseted by his father after his return from the WW1 trenches.

Fowles never forgot the wonderful taste of fruit eaten straight from the tree, nor the benefit of growing kinds which grocers never carried because of commercial disadvantages like tender flesh.

Most fruit trees are available grafted onto dwarf rootstock so we selected cool temperate ones that we liked, that would survive our frosty winters.

A local nursery helped us chose varieties, and we selected apples Pink Belle and Leprechaun, apricot Bulida, peach Anzac, nectarine Tuscany and the Meyer lemon.

We also ordered two pears, Williams Bon Chretien and Conference.

Pear flowers are short lived and don't carry much nectar, so to achieve a good yield you need two varieties that flower simultaneously.

Growers provide lists of compatible trees but unfortunately our order was too late for a dwarf Conference.

We ended up buying a Nashi, also a suitable partner for Williams.

Nashi pear flesh is crisper than that of European pears, more like an apple, and doesn't turn brown when exposed to air. A friend tells me it's delicious sliced with radicchio as salad.

We cleared, weeded and dug a rectangular piece of ground about two metres by six, across a gentle, north facing slope that's exposed to northern sun all day and sheltered from southerly wind by trees and the tennis court fence. The slope provides good drainage.

Bill planted one tree in each corner of the rectangle and fitted the remaining four in between, each two metres apart, in parallel rows to make it easy to lay an irrigation pipe and drippers.

John Fowles's father's experience reassured me that fruit trees would be happy in a confined space if kept correctly pruned to maximise yield.

Our dwarf trees have shot up - the stone fruit are already over my head - and we took an orchardist's advice to remove any incipient fruit while the trees became established.

This was a tough call, but I must confess I secretly kept a few lemons and the tree has hardly grown.

Which no doubt serves me right.

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