Free-standing, wall-trained or shaped, an apple tree brings blossom, shade and fruit to any sized garden. For Rosemary Verey they’re an absolute must…
A new project is always exciting. Whether you have a large garden or are blessed with a pocket-handkerchief patch, be sure you have an apple tree.
In a terrace town garden you will want a tree for structure and shade. A standard apple on a 3.5ft stem will do this, with a spring display of blossom, summer shade and an autumn bounty of fruit.
In a slightly larger, longer garden, you can be more ambitious and make a division between your sitting area and where you perhaps plan to grow vegetables. Apple cordons or espaliers are ideal for this.
How sensible that the word espalier is derived from the Italian spalliera, to shoulder, then via the French espalliere, a shoulder piece. In fact, the lateral branches growing horizontally are supported (or shouldered) by wires held in place by vertical posts or a frame. The frame can be against a wall where the trees will receive the full benefit of the sun’s warmth. But against a wall the frost cannot readily escape and growing free-standing the frost will move on; remember that cold air moves downhill.
Here at Barnsley I have adapted the lessons I learnt at the Potager du Roi at Versailles, where de la Quntinye (who died in 1700) supplied King Louis XIV with fresh fruit every day for his breakfast. Here I saw single-tier espaliers, which are brilliant for edging beds in my potager. Highfield Nursery grew these for me and we called them step-overs. Now they are available and fashionable. In Monet’s garden they are grown effectively as two-tier espaliers.
From Versailles I also adapted the way of growing fruit trees in goblet shapes. We found trees with four branches growing symmetrically from the main trunk and trained these to grow up stakes, so making goblet shapes. As they attained the top of the stakes they were bent over inwards and joined to each other.
You must decide if you want bush trees, pyramids or even a family tree. This latter will give you three different varieties. The Royal Horticultural Society, England autumn show for fruit and vegetables, which has just been held at London’s Vincent Square, was an eye-opener for me for the number of apples available – regardless of European restrictions.
There was a memorable display put on by Wisley with more than a hundred plates of perfect apples all named. There were displays put on by the fruit growers society. Thankfully I had my notebook ready, recorded the winning varieties and was given sound advice by a successful exhibitor.
With careful choosing you can have varieties that ripen from late August until late winter. Some are best eaten as soon as they’re ripe; others improve with keeping. One vital thing is to reduce the number of fruits in each cluster when they are small, thus allowing the remaining fruit to grow to a good size. This is called disbudding.
And I love the names. At the show Howgate Wonder was noteworthy, its yellow flushed red apples were huge. They cook well but are also a dessert fruit. James Grieve is another dual purpose apple, bright red and green. Laxton’s Fortune has fruited well for us at Barnsley since 1978. It is the first to ripen, enjoy it at once as it does not keep.
Lord Lamborne is a regular and heavy cropper and a wise choice for growers in the north. Others I noted for their appealing colour and handy size for eating – Norfolk Royal Ruset, Jupiter and the well-known Bramley. Outstanding for their colour was the intensely dark-red skinned Starkrimson.
Do study the catalogues or even pay a visit to Wisley. If you are in Paris the Tuileries Palace Garden has remarkable trained fruit. Discuss with an expert the importance of pollination, some apples are self-fertile, others need a correct pollinator nearby. An early decision to make is what ultimate size you want your tree and this will depend on the root stock.
See also the Helping Hands workshops:
Planting and staking a tree
Training and looking after wall fruit