Let's get fruity
Assorted summer berries. photographs: richard johnston
Plums ripening. photographs: richard johnston
Buy the right plant varieties, and you'll be on the way to harvesting bumper crops of fruit this summer
Although there’s less than a month to go until the end of another bare-root season, there’s still just enough time to order and plant young, bare-rooted fruit bushes, trees and canes. But choosing the very best varieties can be a bewildering process so here is a brief guide.
Raspberries are one of the most rewarding of fruits to grow, but keep in mind the fact that they do need a deep, fertile, well-drained, weed-free soil in full sun. Many different varieties are available, some cropping as early as June while others will produce fruit well into autumn. One of the best and most reliable earlies is ‘Glen Moy’. Slightly later (mid-summer) is ‘Glen Fyne’, a highly productive variety with plenty of sweet, flavoursome fruits. If you have the space and would like to extend the raspberry season even further, go for the ever-reliable ‘Autumn Bliss’ or the higher-yielding but more demanding ‘Himbo Top’ or ‘Joan J’.
Another fruit that’s easy to grow, freezes well and can be used in a myriad of ways. ‘Jonkheer Van Tets’ or JVT as it’s known in the trade, is the classic variety to look out for; it’s early to ripen, highly productive and flavoursome. ‘Rovada’ is a good choice for a frosty garden.
One of the few fruits that will tolerate light shade but prefers a sunny site and a rich, moist but free-draining soil. If yours is prone to being waterlogged, try ‘Ben Connan’, which is more tolerant of damp conditions. If you’re growing the fruit on an allotment, Roger Muir of the highly-regarded Ken Muir specialist fruit nursery in the UK recommends ‘Ben Hope’, a heavy-cropping variety that’s particularly disease and pest-resistant. Where space is at a premium, go for ‘Ben Sarek’ or ‘Ben Gairn’, compact plants that produce lots of large, tasty, juicy berries. I’ve also heard great things of ‘Titania’, a new, long-fruiting, high-yielding, Swedish variety with large, tasty berries.
I’ve tasted the fruit of a lot of different blackberry cultivars over the years and have almost always been disappointed – the large, glossy fruits may look lovely but I’ve found them to be tasteless at best, sour at worst. The exception is ‘Fantasia’, an August-fruiting variety that combines the brambly taste of the wild blackberry with the better attributes of the modern cultivars; in this case, exceptionally large berries and high productivity. Exclusively stocked by Ken Muir.
Browsing through the online catalogue of the specialist nursery RV Roger recently ( rvroger.co.uk), I was astonished to discover that they stock more than 70 different varieties of this tasty summer fruit. Amongst the best are old classics such as the sweet, dark-red skinned ‘Whinham’s Industry’, the Finnish varieties ‘Hinnonmaki Red’ and ‘Hinnonmaki Yellow’, ‘Careless’ and ‘Invicta’ (the latter two are heavy cropping, culinary types).
Unless you can offer a very sheltered, sunny spot against a warm south-facing wall or a glasshouse/polytunnel, forget trying to grow your own figs. But if you have such a spot, count yourself lucky for there are few things more delicious than the taste of a ripe fig picked warm from the tree. The most reliable and widely available is ‘Brown Turkey’. To encourage a heavy crop, Roger Muir recommends restricting the roots by planting into what’s known as a root restriction bag. Or use the Victorian gardeners’ technique of burying a flat paving slab roughly 60-90cm below the root ball.
Another tree fruit that requires a sunny, sheltered spot if it’s to prosper. The late-season ‘Concorde’ is one of the most reliable varieties, as is ‘Conference’. The tasty ‘Doyenne du Comice’ is also worth seeking out but isn’t as reliable a cropper. As with apples, seek specific advice as regards suitable rootstock and pollination partners.
The most reliable (if not, sadly the tastiest) is the self-fertile ‘Victoria’.
Among the most reliable is the early dessert apple ‘Katya’ (or ‘Katy’) which produces an abundance of tasty, bright red fruit, ‘James Grieve’ (early dessert variety with flavoursome fruits), ‘Fiesta’ (late dessert variety, crisp fruit) and ‘Greensleeves’ (mid-season dessert, crisp green fruit). Of the old Irish heritage varieties, look out for ‘Irish Peach’, ‘Widow’s Friend’, ‘Cavan Sugarcane’, ‘Sam Young’ (all dessert varieties), ‘Uncle John’s Cooker’ and ‘Bloody Butcher (both cookers) and the self-rooting, dual-purpose ‘Mrs Perry’. Remember that the eventual size of the tree will depend on the training method and the rootstock used, while most also require pollinating partners. Any good nursery/garden centre should be able to offer advice in this regard.
Nurseries: englishsfruitnursery.ie(Wexford); irishseedsavers.ie(Clare); McNamara’s (Cork, 021-4613733); futureforests.net(Cork); kenmuir.co.uk(UK-based but post to Ireland); readsnursery.co.uk(also post bare-root to Ireland).