GARDENING / Keen on fruit: Apples and pears

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The Independent Culture
APPLES respond well to pruning, which means they can be tailor-made for even the smallest gardens. Since they have two seasons of beauty, first the blossom and then the fruit, and the great virtue of being able to be eaten as well as admired, they seem to me to be indispensable.

Where space is limited and you want variety, choose a line of cordons - a row of single stems at an angle of about 45 degrees to the soil - so that the fruit develops on short shoots on either side of the main stem. In this way the trees can double up as a fence, although they would also need posts and wires for support. Cordons can also be grown against an existing fence or wall.

Another linear way to grow apples is espalier fashion - flat against a wall. Espaliers give better crops than cordons, but take up more room. The tree has a central stem with branches that are trained to stretch out sideways in tiers - three or four is the usual number. The side branches can be as much as four feet in length on either side of the main stem and the plants are spaced about 18 feet apart. Espaliers need support in the form of posts and wires. They are much harder to grow from scratch than cordons, but they can be bought ready-trained.

Goblets, lollipops, fans, bushes or trees - apples can come in all shapes. Not only can they be turned into the shape of your choosing, but their size can be pre-determined by the rootstock on which they are grown.

All apples are grafted on to rootstocks which affect their ultimate growth. These rootstocks sound more like motorways than anything to do with gardening. M27 and M9 are the most dwarfing, but these are no good on poor soil. There, M26 would be better. MM106 is the one usually chosen for trees that are to be grown in formal shapes.

The choice of varieties is also bewildering. Everyone wants to grow a Cox - but this is not a beginner's fruit. Sunset and Fiesta are new apples which have some of the qualities of a Cox and are much easier for the amateur to grow. Sunset is also particularly pretty to look at. For an early apple, Discovery is delicious when home-grown and bears no relation to what you buy in the shops. Bramley is the best known cooking apple but it is too unwieldy for small gardens; the new Bountiful is a better choice because it does not mind being pruned.

Having chosen the shape, rootstock and variety of apple, there is another factor to consider: pollination. Every apple needs a neighbouring tree of another variety (and some - the triploids - need two) to blossom at the same time for cross- pollination. You can get round this by planting the ornamental crab Malus Golden Hornet, which is an all-purpose pollinator, if you cannot be bothered to sort out the flowering times of the fruit you have chosen.

Pears are in all respects similar to apples and can be treated ery much like them. But because they flower earlier, they need to be well protected from spring frosts. They also need more warmth to fruit well, so they are more often grown against walls than apples tend to be.

Pears are grafted on to two types of Quince rootstooks. Quince A will give larger trees than Quince C. Beth and Conference are the easiest varieties to grow. Fondante d'Automne and Josephine de Malines are probably the most delicious, but they are not for the amateur.

(Photograph omitted)

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