First published on northwexford.com 2012
It is safe to assume that if you are reading this article that you are fairly interested in gardening or horticulture in general, perhaps you have a good number of trees and bushes in your garden or are intending to plant trees is the future. If you are like myself there is a good chance that you are interested in native trees, it being a well known fact that most of Ireland’s trees are non-native and are generally commercial spruce and pine.
Many people that I know are of a like mind and have, as I have done, planted their fields, gardens or even random spaces (Guerrilla Gardeners!) with native deciduous trees. However, noble and selfless we might be, there is always room for a bit of enjoyment and perhaps even gluttony – so why not indulge in a type of tree planting that pays you back, literally in fruit!
Quite often the gardener will have a couple of apple or plum trees, but an orchard or entire fruit garden is relatively rare these days unless it is for commercial purposes. Having planted up an orchard for a couple in Co. Wexford, it struck me that these trees serve the same purpose of providing habitat, helping prevent erosion and flooding and producing oxygen for us to breath. But, what they also do is produce masses of wonderful tasty fruit to both human and animal consumption. They also produce a plethora of flowers earlier in the year, which is a huge benefit to bees, especially as bees are under stress from pesticides, herbicides, electrical signals and unpredictable weather. In addition they are often very attractive trees, which are fairly long lived and can (if not on restrictive rootstocks) grow to a considerable size.
Modern varieties of apple, pear, cherry and plum are generally well suited to this country although a few (such as Cox’s Golden Pippin) tend not to due as well as they might in the UK for instance, due to a wetter and cooler climate. In most cases these trees come on a rootstock which restricts their growth greatly (e.g. dwarf M27) or hardly at all (e.g. vigorous M111). On this basis one can pick a rootstock to suit the desired size, or perhaps if you have plenty of space and a good ladder you might wish to plant the pure cultivars. For those with very small gardens, espaliers, cordons or fans are a very practical way of growing fruit trees, say against a south-facing wall.
Fruit trees do require a greater amount of care in order to provide any substantial amount of fruit – protection from disease (sometimes with products such as Bordeaux Mix or Systhane), correct pruning (cherries especially), feeding and preferably correct planting on a sunny and sheltered site. However, once established and given adequate monitoring they should provide years of sweet and juicy rewards for your efforts.
Having noticed that many of the fruit available in shops is not only imported from the other side of the world, I am also aware that much of it is so large and perfect that clearly it is grown in a non-organic environment. This is now so common that I’ve found I have to frequent a particular shop to be sure of finding Irish eating apples and as for Irish organic apples – the local organic market is the only place to find these (at a premium price I might add).
In time growing your own fruit will save money. It takes a lot of fruit to pay for the cost of growing I hear you cry! Yes, this is true and fruit trees are relatively expensive, however buying bare root trees does cost much less and if the trees are cared for they will eventually repay in fruit the initial outlay. Of course, one cannot put a value on the sheer joy of picking and eating your own fruit, knowing that it is home grown and (hopefully) chemical free, plus the knowledge that it is the tasty by-product of tree planting that you might have done anyway. So, now that my own apple, cherry and pear trees are five years in the ground and really taking off, I look forward to a harvest of Irish grown, organic fruit this autumn. My only regret is that I did not plant more of them!