It has always been possible to grow apples as cordons, which means as single-stem trees diagonally trained to a fence or a wall. The newest way of growing them is not obliquely but as a vertical column. The dwarf rootstocks on which they are grown restrict the trees on short side shoots, close to the central stem. With a season of blossom followed by fruit, they look pretty enough to be used as features in a mixed border.
The first of these trees, known as "ballerinas", appeared about six years ago from America, but they have not become popular because the varieties chosen were not all that good to eat, perhaps because they were less suitable for our climate. Minarette trees, which take their name from the Arabic word meaning a tall, slender tower, are a much better bet. You can now buy the most delicious of all apples, "Ashmeads Kernel", as a minarette, and there are plenty of other good varieties, such as "Discovery", "Egremont Russet" and "Blenheim Orange". An avenue of these little columns on either side of a path would make a lovely sight, like a guard of honour at a wedding.
Minarette trees can also be bought as pears, mulberries, cherries, plums, damsons and gages. There is even a redcurrant, "S. van Tets", sold in columnar form. Here we have standard redcurrants like lollipop trees, but they are always top heavy in the fruit season and it is tempting to try a few minarettes.
If a column of fruit does not appeal, then a pyramid shape with a broad base might be worth considering - though "cone" would be a better description than pyramid. Imagine the shape of a Christmas tree, with wide branches at the bottom and tapering to a single stem at the top, and you have a better idea of a pyramid fruit tree. Plums grafted on to Pixy rootstocks will grow about 6ft high. On St Julien A, they will end up around 9ft. All trees grown in minarette or pyramid forms will need to be pruned to keep them in shape. This is not difficult, but it is important to ask for clear instructions when you buy them.
There are some promising new varieties which can be grown as old-fashioned trees or in the newer restricted forms. A pear called "Concorde" is a cross between the dependable "Confer-ence" and the delicious "Doyenne du Comice". It is self-fertile, which means you do not need to grow a second variety of pear to be sure of getting fruit. "Concorde" has the RHS stamp of approval, an Award of Garden Merit (AGM), and I wish it had been available when I was ordering pears for this garden. But as it can be bought as a minarette, there should be room to tuck one in somewhere. A new dessert apple with an AGM is "Falstaff", which is ready to eat in October; keeps well and is said to be crisp and juicy with red striped fruit. "Blue Tit" is a brand new dual-purpose plum for cooking or eating which is very hardy, so it would suit gardeners in cold corners.
The breeders have also been busy with strawberries. "Mara des Bois" is a large cultivated strawberry that tastes like the little wild alpines. It fruits on and off throughout the summer. We grew it here last year and I thoroughly recommend it. "Cam-bridge Late Pine" is a variety that used to be popular until the mid-Fifties when it was replaced by "Cambridge Favourite", which proved better for commercial purposes but was not as delicious. "Cambridge Late Pine" has now been re-introduced and some say it tastes better than "Royal Sovereign", but I have not tried it yet. If it is as good as they claim and better than "Royal Sovereign", then it should be ambrosia.
SUPPLIER: Ken Muir of Honeypot Farm, Weeley Heath, Clacton on Sea, Essex (0255 830 181).Reuse content