A fruitful summer

Even a tiny patio can produce a healthy crop of fruit. You don’t have to rely on carrots and cabbage for your five-a-day
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This year the RHS Grow Your Own campaign extends to fruit and encourages us to grow our own apples and pears alongside the carrots and lettuces. You can also, of course, grow blackberries in the borders, Pershore plums on the patio or even string muscat grapevines along the rooftop.

Standard gooseberries as sentries at the terrace doors might replace the usual clipped box and, in a sheltered, sunny spot, given a roomy terracotta pot, juicy pomegranates can be plucked straight from the tree. (At the Chelsea Physic Garden they’ve been growing pomegranates for years.)

For Londoners short on space but with a sweet tooth, there are plenty of luscious berry and bush choices. “Growing fruit in containers is often the only option for those of us with restricted space, but far from being a limiting factor, this method of cultivation offers many benefits,” says Carol Klein, who has written, together with the RHS experts, Grow Your Own Fruit, which shows how to nurture 40 different varieties, including apricots, kiwi and quinces.

Carol Klein heads the Grow Your Own Fruit campaign
© Torrie Chugg
Carol Klein heads the Grow Your Own Fruit campaign
“You can control the size of a plant by restricting its roots in a pot, which also forces it to crop more quickly than in the open ground,” says Carol. “Tree fruits are much more accessible because they rarely grow above head height when planted in pots. Container-grown fruit trees can easily be moved to a frost-free spot for winter and they are easier to protect from pests and diseases.”

In other words, it is tricky to cover a fan-trained peach tree in spring to protect it from the common fungal disease peach leaf curl but you can easily move a pot-grown peach tree into the porch or greenhouse. The most reliable variety is yellow-fleshed Rochester.

The RHS reports that last year, blueberries were the fruit people asked most about growing, possibly because over the past few years they’ve become a delicious breakfast staple — and they’re not cheap. The truth is that unless you can guarantee a site of moist, well-drained acidic soil, a blueberry bush will sulk. In a large pot, however, it is able to thrive because you can give it the growing medium it needs: ericaceous compost, suited for acid-loving plants. Buy a few bagfuls, then you can also grow cranberries and lingonberries, which share similar requirements. All benefit from regular doses of rainwater, which has a more acidic pH than water from the tap.

You can grow blueberries in a container of ericaceous compost
© GAP Photos/Dianna Jazwinski
You can grow blueberries in a container of ericaceous compost
Every garden should have a resident apple tree, and even if you only have a balcony, you can grow several varieties because the family apple tree incorporates three types — a mix of desserts and cookers — grafted on to one tree, and all are in compatible pollination groups. Pears and plums can be conveniently grown in the same way.

Apples also make the most beautiful border edging or low-level dividers. Think knee-high or below because these specially trained apple trees are called stepovers and have espaliered branches that, trained and spaced on straining wires, form a living fence that supplies leaf, blossom and fruit.

Currants, especially opalescent white and red, look like extravagant strings of glass beads when in full fruit and can take centre stage on the patio when grown as glamorous lollipop trees; like gooseberries, they don’t need hours of sunshine, so are ideal for a shady urban courtyard.

If floor space is limited, maximise on the vertical. Even if you can only supply a cold north-facing wall, you can still grow your own cherries: Morello varieties are quite content to grow in the shade and can be bought fan-trained, so the branches lie completely flat, taking no space at all. Against a wall or fence, consider a row of cordon fruit trees — the fruiting spurs grow direct from the compact, slim trunks — all growing at 45 degrees to encourage more fruits; make them a productive double row, so that both form a large-scale cross-trellis of foliage and fruit.

Knee-high fruit trees grown on a dwarf rootstock make great garden dividers
© GAP Photos/Elke Borkowski
Knee-high fruit trees grown on a dwarf rootstock make great garden dividers
Rather like a passion fruit, a kiwi fruit vine will cover a fence, scramble over an arch or garland a pergola; with its red stems, tropical-look leaves and dangling, furry fruits, nothing could be more spectacular. Figs grow wonderfully on a warm south or west wall, especially when they are fan-trained so that the sun reaches every fruit. In a sheltered town garden, French fig Panachée, striped green and gold, will look and taste sublime. This summer promises to be a fruity one.

For free expert advice on growing your own fruit, call 0845 260 9000, or visit www.rhs.org.uk/growyourown.

Reader book offer

Grow Your Own Fruit costs £16.99 but Homes & Property readers can buy it for £13.59, including p&p, by calling 01903 828503 and quoting the code MB222.

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