Friday, 24 April 2009

Morettini: set

In contrast, Morettini rarely sets more than a couple of fruits per spur (this difference between fertilised fruitlets and sterile ones is obvious very early as the second photograph shows). I don't know whether this is due to poor pollination (being the first to flower) or whether it is just a quirk of the variety. I suspect the latter, as the cordons in the main garden are all very well synchronised for overlapping pollinators, and a couple of the varieties are still apt to only set a single fruit per spur too. Curiously, it seems to be mostly the ones with a bergamot shape; the majority of the pyriform cultivars tend to set a full spur, though a varying number later drop. I will have to keep an eye on them, as this is one of the varieties that has been most prone to pear midge in the past.

Sucrée de Montluçon: set

Another amazingly good set of Sucrée de Montluçon, this variety has been so consistent in the quality of blossom, number of fruit that set and quality of crop. If the set is still high after the June drop, I think I will thin it a little, as they can achieve a large size with symmetrical shape which makes them excellent for exhibition purposes.

Max Red Bartlett: RIP

My only real pear disaster. I grafted this onto the previous stepover to make a double-tier espalier, but this variety has been consistently unhealthy, with about 30% of spurs showing significant canker-related die-back this year, with the few flower buds failing to develop properly. It did fruit reasonably well early on, but not for a couple of years and the plant is frankly quite unsightly. I have now taken a pruning saw to it and will either probably just let the Red Comice make another tier (if it has the energy!). I have Double de Guerre in mind, though perhaps for a different location.

Red Comice: blossom

I planted this one as I particularly wanted decorative foliage as the espalier is in my front garden. I later grafted on another layer of Max Red Bartlett, which also has red-tinted foliage and pink flowers (of more later). Both flower usually much later than the normal varieties. It's more delicate in growth than the normal Comice, but is spurring up nicely now and the growth is attractive and healthy.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Bacterial Canker?

Another reason why I'm feeling cavalier about my plum tree. For a number of year it has been oozing gum from a number of lesions, including quite a sizeable area low on the main trunk.

The oozing and dieback of smaller branches do suggest bacterial canker, but I'm not absolutely convinced. I've never had any young growth die back or every seen any spotting on the leaves. Also, the damage first appeared after a particularly cold spring with severe frosts, and new lesions this year also correspond with possible damage from severe frosts.

I can remove small branches, but not the bigger area on the main trunk, so we just have to hope the  tree can live with the problem, as so far it has done. Branches affected are more likely to produce blossom, not something this tree is naturally adept at!

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Plum Pruning experiment

An experiment. I've never pruned a plum before June (not counting the suckers I removed from my land-lady's Victoria whilst it was dormant, which went on to develop silver leaf as a result, hence my caution). Sources seem to differ on when safe pruning can be done. Some say it is fine as soon as the plant is in vigourous growth (April); others to delay until June just to be on the safe side.

However, this Denniston's Superb has never lived up to its name. It took years to flower at all, and now only produces about 10% of the blossom I'd expect (making the Coe's Golden Drop look generous) and sets even less.

Festooning the branches has helped, and most of the fruit that sets is usually to be found on a bent branch. I usually summer prune, but still there is too much unproductive growth. This year I have removed all extension growth back to either a flowering spur, or 'knobbly' wood that looks like it might spur if it ever ceases to sulk. We shall see.

I suspect the real problem is that the soil here is unsuitable for plums. We have a very shallow layer of topsoil, on a few inches of clay which sits on water-logged gravel, the water table being only a couple of feet from the surface at times. I suspect there is a lot of nutrient leaching. Even the local blackthorn bushes set crops of sloes very rarely. 

Pruning example: pear



Not a classic time to prune I know, but I do find there is always the odd bit of winter pruning that was missed.

Here the there is a fruiting spur on the bottom left that is being dominated by some more vigourous extension growth above. This will later shade the developing fruit, plus I find that pruning back to a fruiting spur encourages more spurring in the basal area below. (variety Winter Nelis)

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Some interesting (if unseasonal) thoughts on winter storage

L'Atelier Vert

Passe Crassane - new graft
























An extension graft a of Passe Crassane scion onto Sucrée de Montluçon, one of the front-garden step-overs (using wood supplied by Brogdale). The buds are breaking quite healthily, which makes me reasonably positive the graft will take.

Biennial bearers

Some varieties haven't been very obliging this year. I suspect some of the apples have true biennial tendencies as they cropped well last year, but with the pears it might just irregular cropping.

Vista Bella, Orlean Reinette and Devonshire Quarrenden all fruited abundantly last year, but have absolutely no flowers this year. Ellison's is always rather shy to flower, and has just a couple of flowering spurs again this year. Rosemary Russet cropped very well last year, but again, only a few flowering spurs this year. Egremont did well last year, but isn't overloaded with blossom. I suspect in this case the tree isn't 100% happy being grown as a cordon though, over all, it produces very well.

(Pear) Forelle produced only a small amount of blossom last year, and set only one fruit. No flowers again this year, though it is spurring well. Dr Jules flowered for the first time in years, but only 2 spurs have set fruit. Beurré Hardy didn't flower either. Max Russet Bartlett has been quite shy, probably because most of the the buds blacken and shrivel through the winter. I have it growing as an espalier, grafted on to Red Comice on a warm, dry SW wall. If it doesn't thrive here I may as well remove it. A shame, as when it does produce, the fruit is large, well-coloured and an excellent culinary/exhibition variety (perhaps swop for Double de Guerre?).


Friday, 17 April 2009

Pitmaston Pineapple: Blossom

A slightly strange variety but one I personally like a lot. This is a nice maiden on MM106, probably surplus to requirements as I have another as a step-over that fruits well for our needs on M27.

Vista Bella: a year off?

Vista Bella, growing as a step-over on m27. This flowered and fruited very well last year, too well as this year it's decided to go biennial.

Howgate Wonder: Blossom

I grafted 4 of this variety on MM106 with a view to growing them for juice when we shared a smallholding. Following the vandalism of the fence and destruction of Pomona's second orchard by the evil sheep and shepherd, she is now left with all of them surplus to requirements. 

St Edmund's Pippin: Blossom

Lovely large blossom, sadly mostly on tips. I'm endeavoring to grow it as a cordon, we shall see how it goes.

Pixie: Blossom

A favourite variety. Nice blossom, compact growth, free spurring. We finished ate our last one on March 1st, still crisp and flavoursome. 

Sunset: Blossom

Rather disappointing inflorescences this year, as Sunset usually produces and sets quite an abundance. A little behind the other varieties just described.

Blossom: Sturmer Pippin

This one is something of a mystery. It was ordered as Spartan, but when it eventually produced fruit, the latter were hard, brownish green and almost impossible to ripen. More detailed examination of shape, eye, bowl etc do show features that all match with SP. Blossom dates seem to match those given for SP in the literature too.  I've now reduced the cordon to a couple of feet, and will graft a more useful variety on to the extension growth next year. 

Red James Grieve: Blossom

Red James Grieve, nearly in full bloom today (April 17). 

Irish Peach: Blossom

The first into bloom for me this year, opening it's first buds on April 4th, well ahead of any other apple this year. Luckily it seems to have quite a long flowering season, and has managed to overlap with some of it's neighbours, so hopefully something will set.

Apple Grafting Demonstration
















A bit late, but a visit to the in-laws reminded me that I'd given them some trees that I didn't have duplicates of myself. This is a scion of Ard Cairn Russet that I'm trying on a M27 sucker (as the parent tree is very vigourous on M26).
First make slanting cuts on both scion and rootstock, taking care to select wood of similar diameter and making the cuts of matching length/angle.









Then make a triangular 'tongue' in both ends, so that the different bits of wood can be interlocked. This is best done against a hard surface, rather than by holding in one hand and pressing down, which can result in rather nasty finger wounds. It's a good idea to do one first, then use the first as a guide for the second cut, as it can be difficult to rectify mistakes.
Next, interlock the two pieces together. If you have done it carefully, the match should be exact.

Using a special material (ultra-low tack duck tape, only available from the very cheapest £ Shops; I recommend HyperValue in Swansea) carefully cover the union, making sure you cut enough tape to cover both ends. Press the pieces together as you wrap to ensure as much contact between the pieces as possible. Low-adhesiveness of the tape is quite important, as really sticky tape will pull off the bark later on when you want to remove the tape. Really cheap stuff sometimes just comes loose with weather after about 6 months.










Finally, use clothes pegs to exert gentle pressure to union, making sure that it presses against the cut surfaces. 

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Winter Nelis: Blossom

Bunyard has little to say about Winter Nelis (listed without the extra 'L') other than to give a number of alternative names: Nelis d'Hiver, Coloma d'Hiver and Bonne de Malines. 

Winter Nelis spurs and flowers very freely, with a good number of flowers per panicle. The number that eventually set can be a little disappointing, and spurs need regular thinning to avoid congestion. Buds broke April 8th, full flower April 11.

Dr Jules Guyot: Blossom

This variety has never done particularly well here, only producing blossom a couple of times over the 10 years or so since planting. Probably one of the most disappointing fruit varieties I've grown (along with the Sturmer Pippin which was sent in error by a well-known nursery). My dim recollection of the last time it produced any fruit was that the crop wasn't even particularly early.

The best thing I can say in favour of Dr Jules is that the young fruits are a very decorative dark red. 

Bud break April 4th, full flower 8th, 50% petal drop 12th)

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Not quite so well synchronised...

Second Pear cordon. From left Winter Nellis, Dr Jules Guyot (with Santa Claus and Devoe extensions) Glou Morceau and Quince Meeches Prolific. The spaces in between rows are vegetable beds that are quite productive despite root competition (and the horrible, thin topsoil that sits on a layer of water-logged sand and gravel).

Synchronised blossoming

The first group of cordons now in full bloom. From left, Doyenne de Comice; Concorde; Conference and Beth (with an extension of Goreham on one limb). The blooms open within just a few days of each other, and pollination has been good over the 10 years these cordons started to produce fruit. All are growing on Quince C.

Comice: Blossom

Another favourite, I allowed this tree to become rather over-shaded by a rampant loquat. It is showing signs of recovery now, with more blossom, more evenly spaced over the whole cordon. In full flower today, April 11.

Concorde: Blossom

Another generous, creamy-white blossom, in full bloom today. This one is a young step-over, the parent tree is a well-established oblique cordon.

Gorham: Blossom

Not quite such fine blossoms as some varieties to my mind. I have Gorham, grafted as an extension of Beth on an oblique cordon, and a very young home-grafted maiden, destined to be an espalier. Just approaching full bloom today.

Santa Claus: Blossom


Santa Claus has quite distinctive, apple-blossom pink buds, which fade as the flowers mature. First buds opened on April 6, full bloom today on April 11.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Fondante d'Automne: Blossom

Another relatively-early one. Not quite such beautiful or generous blossom as the others described, but does go well with the earlies for pollination purposes. Buds opened around April 3rd this year.

For some reason, I chose to grow this one as a spiral pyramid. I'm not sure of the decorative effect, but it does respond to training very well, as growth is slow and compact, and spurs are very freely produced. Cropping has been precocious and fairly heavy for a young tree so far.

According to Bunyard this cultivar was raised by "M. Fievée at Mauberg before 1825."

Conference: Blossom


Of the more familiar cultivars, Conference is probably the earliest, and has more generous blossom than some. It has a relatively long flowering period, so does overlap well with Comice and Concorde which I planted together with Beth as a double oblique cordon (which I've heard called a 'Belgian Fence').

Blossoms opened April 4th this year and tree in full flower by April 9th.

Asian Pear Shinsui : Blossom

If I'm honest, I'm still not absolutely sure how I feel about Asian pears, though they are exceptionally decorative, with generous creamy blossom emerging from red-flushed leaves and gnarled, woody spurs. This one is a half-standard on Quince A (as are most of my pears). Growing some way from the others, I've budded on a spur of Devoe to help with even pollination as it's flowering coincides exactly with the latter, and Sucrée de Montluçon.

The first crop was exceptionally flavoursome, with a flavour of slightly winey pineapple; the second year crop was rather flavourless in comparison. 


Devoe: Blossom

Another favourite early is Devoe, another Canadian cultivar with excellent all round qualities. I have one trained as a stepover, and another budded on to a rather recalcitrant Dr Jules Guyot which has only produced fruit a couple of times in the decade since it was planted.

Again, compact, free-spurring growth with beautiful round, white early blossom, averaging about 12 infloresences per panicle. I have read it is susceptible to fireblight, but it's well worth taking the risk. First blossoms opened on April 1 this year; full bloom by April 5th;   last blossoms finishing 24 th April, rather longer than any other variety this year!

Sucrée de Montluçon: Blossom

My favourite pear blossom belongs to Sucrée de Montluçon, a variety from central France discovered in 1812. The blooms are large, creamy white and produced in regular abundance. It's a compact, densely-spurring variety that has done very well for me as a step-over tree. I rather regret not having room for one as a half-standard as the density of the blossom rivals neighbouring cherries. It does well for me in my sunny, sheltered front garden.

First blossoms opened April 1, full blossom coincides with Morettini and Devoe around April 5, hopefully ensuring good pollination as well as a uniform display.


Beurré Precoce de Morettini: Blossom

Morettini is a Canadian cultivar, and the first to flower in my garden. It's precocity can be something of a nuisance; in mild winters it often starts to break bud in December, though several flushes follow on, sometimes into June. I suspect this trait might make it susceptible to fireblight, but so far so good. This year it was well-behaved, and the first flowers opened on 29 March, just ahead of the neighbouring early cultivars. Full bloom by April 5 and loosing petals by April 9 after some stiff winds.

Morettini has compact upright growth, and spurs very freely, producing attractive rounded panicles.

Early Blossom

Few people would consider growing pears for the blossom alone, but a few varieties are well worth including.

When I decided to fill my front garden with early/late varieties to extend the season, by chance I selected a number of varieties that were very early to bloom and very beautiful.

The photo shows Beurré Precose de Morettini.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Hard graft?

Pomona's year always begins with thoughts of how to increase the sum and substance of her orchards. Unlike mortals, Pomona cannot simply nip down to the garden centre but has to conjure new trees from a couple of twigs. The twigs usually arrive courtesy of Brogdale in early February, and grafted at leisure in mid-March.

Pomona drew upon Ancient Wisdom to learn her craft. Unfortunately Ancient Wisdom did not know about the more useful Modern Wisdom of duck tape and clothes-pegs, so the first trees grew from unions barely held together with rafia and sealed with molten wax. How many hours and candles were wasted in this method is not recorded, but the grafts were successful, and a large Beurré Precoce de Morettini and Dutch Medlar flourish to this day.

Oxford Pomona




















In Elizabeth's reign Pomona lived. There was not to be found
Among the wood-nymphs any one in all the Oxonian ground
That was so cunning for to keep an orchard as was she,
Nor none so pain-full to preserve the fruit of every tree.
And thereupon she had her name. She cared not for the woods
Nor rivers, but the for boughs that bore both buds
and plenteous fruit. Instead of dart, a grafting hook she bare
With which the overlusty boughs she eft away did pare
That spread out too far, and eft did make therewith a rift
To graft another imp upon the stock within the cleft.
And, lest her trees should die through drought, with water of the springs
She moistened of their sucking roots the little crumpled strings.
This was her love and whole delight.

(paraphrased rather loosely) from Ovid