How To Grow Your Own ‘5 A Day’
Make space for your favourite fruit crops and you will soon be reaping the mouth-watering rewards of unbeatable freshness and fantastic flavour.
What could be more magical than wandering out into the garden on a summer's day and picking your own fresh fruit straight from the bush or tree? Luscious strawberries & blackberries, apples, pears and cherries can all be at your fingertips, and they are much easier to grow than you might think & can be suitable for gardens big or small. Fruit trees are beautiful when in blossom and bountiful when laden with fruit - one of the tastiest ways to get your ‘5 a day’! What could be more satisfying than using your own fruit for your pies and jams with the surplus providing an excellent source of food and shelter for our wildlife? Even if you have a small plot there is room to squeeze in some of these delicious healthy treats. You can even grow your own juicy peaches on your patio and find room for a miniature apple tree.
The choice of fruit is staggering so we’ve hand-picked some real ‘fruity beauties’ to get you started.
‘Scrumptious' by name and scrumptious by nature, this is a rosy red, mid-season dessert apple with deliciously crisp, white flesh that is sweet but not too sweet. Its small-ish size gives it instant snack appeal so it's popular with children. It's bred for high yield and disease-resistance too. Where space is limited, choose a minarette (a slender, columnar tree) and grow it in a pot.
Apple ‘Coronet Family'
With a ‘Coronet Family' tree you get two apple varieties for the price of one: for example, the bright red ‘Elstar' and the tangy, soft textured ‘James Grieve' both on the same tree. Bred as a miniature (it stands just 2m tall) it can be grown in the smallest of gardens. Plant it in well-fertilised compost in a nice big pot and you will harvest delicious apples every year. Other varieties include Cox's Orange pippin and Katy.
Clusters of white blossom cover this tree in spring followed by small, tasty fruit in autumn which you will be lucky to get to before your garden wildlife do! If you live in a city this tree can be a good option as pears don't mind pollution. It also grows well in cold areas.
Malus ‘John Downie’
This has been given the RHS Award of Garden Merit. Single white flowers adorn this tree in May and are followed by an abundance of large crab apples. The fruit is considered to be great for jam and wine making.
This compact little tree is suitable for patios and smaller gardens. What this tree lacks in stature it makes up for in output; this tree is a fabulous fruiter bearing a heavy crop of delicious sweet cherries.
If you’re partial to a homemade tipple of Damson gin or brandy then this tree is a good choice! The tree yields a good crop of large, dark blue fruit that are best used in late September.
Peach ‘Garden Lady'
The beautiful pink flowers of ‘Garden Lady' are followed by sweet and juicy fruits with yellow flesh. Bred as a dwarf variety, it is ideal for growing in a free-draining pot on a sunny patio, and as it is self-fertile it doesn't need to be grown with another variety for cross-pollination. Give it winter protection in an unheated greenhouse and bring it out in late May for a tasty crop in July.
Blackcurrant ‘Ben Connan'
A small bush variety, ‘Ben Connan' is a good choice for small gardens as it's early to ripen and produces lots of large glossy berries on short trusses, which are ready to harvest from mid-July onwards. Choose a sunny spot, keep it well watered and you will have plenty of tasty fruit for pies and jams to use straight away or freeze for later.
The RHS have awarded ‘Invicta' their coveted Award of Garden Merit for its excellent cropping and mildew resistance. It produces large, pale green fruits that are perfect for pies, fools, jams and freezing. When they are fully ripe they are even sweet enough to eat fresh from the bush. ‘Invicta' is self-fertile so it's fine if you only have room for the one.
This species likes light, humus-rich soil which may contain some chalk. All varieties are self-pollinating, flowering in April-May and ready to harvest in June-July depending on the variety. The bushes need to be vigorously pruned. They bear fruit on short side-shoots on the twigs and branches, the so-called fruiting wood.
Good proven varieties include ‘Jonkheer van Tets’ (large, dark-red, firm berries), ‘Stanza’ (large, dark-red, fairly sour berries), ‘Rotet’ (large bunches of pale red berries), ‘Rondom’ (dark-red, firm, fairly sour berries), ‘Rosetta’ (large, pale red berries).
There is always room for some strawberry plants whether it is in a bed, pot or window basket. They prefer a well-drained sunny spot & need watering regularly then feeding weekly as the fruits start to grow. Try easy to grow varieties such as ‘Cambridge Favourites’ - a mid-season strawberry which is well suited to growing in containers for a space saving crop on the patio & produces a bumper crop of juicy fruits with an excellent flavour and texture or ‘Elsanta’ - an excellent mid-season strawberry that produces masses of glossy, delicious fruit that have a good shelf life.
Blackberries and Blueberries
Blackberries and blueberries pack a powerful punch on the health front. Along with blackcurrants, raspberries and apples, they are counted as ‘superfoods', as they are loaded with vitamin C and antioxidants, which are said to help prevent premature ageing and give your immune system a boost. If you grow your own, you can be sure of getting the maximum benefit from eating them fresh because commercially grown fruit has to be transported and stored, giving the vitamin C a chance to deteriorate.
With pretty white flowers in spring, delicious fruit in summer and fantastic autumn colour, blueberries have it all. Acid soil is essential so if you don't have that, grow them in a pot filled with ericaceous compost (as used for rhododendrons); water well and feed once a week. ‘Patriot' is partially self-fertile so it will crop on its own, but for better results, grow a second variety too, such as ‘Bluecrop' so they will cross pollinate. We have a triple pack instore which will keep you supplied with plump berries from summer into autumn – ‘Julia’ produces juicy berries in July, ‘Augusta’, sweet fruits in August & ‘Septa’ extends the season into September with its delicious late blueberries.
Blackberry ‘Loch Maree'
Thornless ‘Loch Maree' is both pretty and fruitful - a great combination. It's unusual in that is has double, pink flowers, which are followed by a generous crop of super-sweet, tasty berries in August and September. It's an easy-growing variety, and you can even grow it in a pot on your patio. For best results, add some well-rotted organic matter to make the soil more moisture-retentive.
Blackberry ‘Black Butte'
The blackberry ‘Black Butte' is a fairly recent introduction from America, and it's a whopper! The conical berries are nearly twice the size of other blackberry varieties and can measure up to 5cm (2in) in length and weigh up to 12g each. Give it a sunny spot and some well-drained soil and it will romp away, giving you a heavy crop about a month earlier than most other varieties. The flavour is sweet and delicious - perfect in fruit salads, pies and smoothies.
When you have watched your delicious fruit growing throughout the season, you need to make sure that you pick it when it is at its best. Pick it too soon & the flavours will not have developed to the optimum, leave it too long & textures & flavours will have started to decline & storage quality will be poor. Apart from the variety you choose to grow, there are all sorts of factors that can affect the length of time fruit takes to ripen including the local climate, poor weather & exposure to the sun. This makes it more difficult to tell when to harvest your fruit.
Apples & pears can be picked later in the year as summer is turning to autumn. A tell-tale sign is when windfall fruit is fully ripe but you can test fruit on the tree by cupping it in your hand, lifting it slightly & twisting. If it is ripe it should come away from the tree without any force & with the stalk intact. Of course the final test is in the tasting! Apples should be sweet & crunchy with pears being firm but sweet. Seed colour in apples is also a clue with early & late apples maturing when the seeds are yellow & mid-season ones when their seeds are brown in colour. If you want to store some fruits then choose cultivars that ripen later on then store in a frost free space below 6°C.
Fruit such as plums & peaches should be harvested when ripe & eaten within a few days. They should feel soft when squeezed gently & should come away from the branch easily. Soft fruits such as blackberries & gooseberries should also be picked as they ripen; gooseberries go almost translucent in the sunshine. There are dozens of tasty options to use them up & don’t forget to freeze some to get you through the winter.
So go on, give in to temptation and put a little bit of paradise in your garden – you won’t regret it!