© Gap Photos/John Glover
The key is to choose a dwarfing rootstock — fruit trees are grafted into different graded rootstocks — that will keep the tree compact through the years, never outgrowing its welcome. You also, three cheers, won't have to wait for years before reaping the harvest.
Many fruit trees need a pollinating partner to enable them to crop well, so the other essential factor for growing them in small spaces is to choose self-fertile varieties that don't need neighbouring trees, such as dessert apple Falstaff, fig Brown Turkey and apricot Tomcot.
All fruit trees can thrive in containers, but if space is truly limited, try columnar or cordon fruit trees — plums, sweet cherries, apples, pears — in which blossom and fruit grow close to the 4ft-5ft stem, so making full use of vertical space. Despite the lack of branches, they crop surprisingly well. These cordon fruit trees are also ideal to plant against a fence or wall, taking up barely any space, but keep a pair of secateurs handy to stop them reverting to a more normal pattern.
Apples and pears look sensational both at blossom and fruit time when grown as espaliers, their branches trained horizontally on wires against a wall. If growing them into this form sounds daunting and time-consuming, never fear, because you can buy them ready-trained. You just need to install vine eyes and wires on your wall or fence so you can tie in the branches as they grow, to keep them on the straight and narrow. Grown in this way, it's a breeze to reach and pick the fruit.
© Gap Photos/Elke Borkowski
Imagine the delight of picking a sun-warmed fig for breakfast in summer. Panache is the gorgeous, striped French variety, but Brown Turkey, raised to suit our English climate, is also delicious. Fig trees will provide a bountiful crop provided they are given the shelter and warmth of a wall facing south or west; grow them flat against the wall, or freestanding.
They also need to have their roots restricted so that they don't produce foliage at the expense of fruit, which makes them ideal contenders for large pots on sunny patios.
Not all fruit trees demand sunshine — apples will grow in semi-shade, but if you have a north-facing wall that has little light, you can grow the self-fertile Morello cherry. Bought ready-trained in a fan shape, it will give you a pretty ornamental tree as well as dark, sour cherries that are wonderful for jams, pies and preserves.
Stepovers are highly decorative and should be more widely grown. These baby espaliered apple and pear trees of just one or two tiers make a perfect and productive edging for a kitchen garden, allotment, raised bed or border: a low, openwork fence providing leaf, flower and fruit that looks delightful even when bare in winter.