by BRIAN MINTER
March 3, 2005
Remember how fruit trees used to take up so much of our garden area and
overpower our landscape? Well, fruit trees have changed! Gone are the
big standard and semi-dwarf trees that needed so much pruning. In their place are new varieties which are smaller and more compact. Many are self fertile, and most have greater disease resistance.
I'm always inspired when visiting my favourite garden in all the world, Wisley Gardens in England. Its remarkable display of fruit trees not only introduces new varieties, but also presents them in a whole new dimension. We all know Europeans have a penchant for espaliering trees against walls, but now they've taken it to the next level by training fruit trees (like roses) over arbours and up and around pillars. In other words, they've made fruit trees an integral part of the landscape. The new collonade tree forms are being used as landscape features, and espaliered forms are also being used as privacy screens and good neighbour fences.
Apples are still the number one fruit tree in popularity, however, three things have changed: the size and style of the trees and the introduction of more disease resistant varieties. Today the dwarfing root stock upon which many varieties are budded is M27. Like its companion M9, dwarf trees grown on these root stocks must be supported or kept staked almost their entire lives, but they have many advantages. These tree styles are the most compact and can be easily trained into many forms. Espaliered in a parallel branch form, they can easily grace a south or west facing wall, create a beautiful screen or make a great fence.
Collonade apple trees still have to find their true home in our gardens. Part of the problem is they don't yet have the best quality apples, but that will come in time. Collonades will grow in containers, but you need to have two or more for pollination, and ideally the containers should be large enough and have automated watering to allow you freedom from constant maintenance. My experience with them has been positive, but as with all apples, collonades need preventative spraying to control disease, particularly European canker. They can produce a good amount of fruit in a little space, and in time they will become indispensable in our home gardens.
As for apple varieties, there are the old-fashioned favourites like Jonagold, Cox Orange, Elstar and Fuji, but in most climates the many new scab-free varieties will take over in popularity. Their minimal care and their production of better quality fruit will make a significant difference. To date, Red Free, Pristine, and Jona Free are some of the better varieties, but Liberty and Florina are the best.
Not much has happened to plums over the past number of years, but I am amazed how popular the Italian prune plum has become. It's self fertile and on St. Julien root stock, it stays fairly compact. This plum produces heavy crops and provides quality fruit that is good both fresh and preserved. For the most versatile plum, I recommend the Italian.
Pears are still popular and in areas with a moderate climate, the dwarfing varieties on a quince root stock are the most practical for home gardens. Dwarf pear trees can be espaliered with very good
results, but in moist climates, scab has been a problem for many varieties. The russet skinned varieties, like Comice, D'Anjou, Bosc and Beurre de Hardy, are the least prone to scab, but for sheer flavour Bartlett and Conference are still the best. New varieties like Spartlett and Sierra are providing better disease resistance with some fairly good flavour as well. Oriental pears, often called pear-apples, are also becoming more popular. As of yet, only larger trees are available, but
they can be kept in shape with a good training program. Both clear skinned and russet varieties are available, and both have their own unique qualities. My favourite varieties are 20th Century and 21st Century. Remember: most pear trees need another variety for pollination, so please keep this in mind when planning your 'orchard'.
In moist climates, keeping sweet cherries free of disease has been a real problem. With the introduction of the Giesla root stock from Belgium, we can now enjoy cherry trees that are quite dwarf in size. The secret is to buy a quality self-fertile variety on a dwarf root stock. Lapins, developed at the Canadian research station in Summerland, is getting world wide acclaim for its quality of fruit, split resistance and production levels. Other promising varieties are on the horizon, particularly interesting are those that mature a little later, thus avoiding the wet spring weather. The Giesla root stock also allows even very young trees to produce fruit.
Great peaches can be produced even in moist climates, and the very best variety is Frost peach. After three years, when it has become well established, this variety has the most leaf curl esistance I have ever seen, and its fruit is truly delicious. Although we grow them in the open, I really feel we'd get far better results if our trees were espaliered on a south or west facing wall. Genetic warf varieties are an interesting novelty, but to be honest they just can't match the flavour of the better peach varieties.
Nectarines are really a fuzzless peach, and they grow like a peach. Unlike peaches, they are not self fertile but will cross pollinate with them.
Fruit trees are going to experience a revival in our home gardens, especially with the many new compact forms, innovative uses and easier-to-care-for varieties. Being able to enjoy fresh, pesticide-free fruits is a wonderful, healthy taste treat, and these new varieties of fruit trees are a great addition to any garden. They truly are a good investment. Please take a look at your options and see how they could make a great contribution to your garden.