Autumn efforts will soon bear fruit

Now is the time to plant fruit trees, says Dr Jonathan Holliday, who confesses a bias for a local favourite

Living down the road from Colnbrook, I have a slightly proprietorial feel for Cox’s Orange Pippin, the world-famous apple that began its life in this corner of Maidenhead.  

It seems that Richard Cox, a retired brewer from London, moved to Colnbrook with his wife, two maids, a boy ‘for domestic work’ and three labourers — oh for such domestic help. This allowed him to concentrate on his garden and in particular on raising new apples. In around 1830 he sowed two seeds of Ribston Pippin in a single pot, creating both Cox’s Orange Pippin and Cox’s Pomona. Sadly the original tree blew down early in the 20th century, but at least we still have his marvellous apple.  

And we are now just entering the season to plant apples and pears. Planting a one-year-old ‘maiden’ should provide fruit within two years, depending on pruning. A tree this young is more amenable to training than three-year-old plants but they, of course, will fruit sooner. A well grown ‘cordon’ — a single stem, usually grown at 45º and with pruned side shoots, can typically produce 3–5lbs of fruit per season for the amateur grower.  

A cordon-trained tree looks great on a wall, as does an espalier-trained plant, where branches are tied and pruned in horizontal pairs either side of the trunk.  

A young tree needs a hole big enough to take all the roots without squashing. Use the best top soil around the roots and, if the soil is heavy, lighten it with sand. Gently pack the soil around the roots as you go, moving the plant up and down to get really good contact with the soil. Aim to have the scion — the point at which the fruiting plant is grafted on to the root stock — about four inches above the final ground level.  

For peaches and nectarines, highly dependent on root conditions, it is very important to prepare the ground. Drainage needs to be good so heavy soil requires liberal amounts of brick rubble in the bottom, covered with chopped-up turfs (the matted roots form a tough, drainable layer). Acid soil may need a dressing of lime. These trees should grow in a warm sunny spot against a wall or fence and be trained in a fan formation.  

It is also time to start clearing the garden for winter — this will reduce pests and diseases next year. Bedding plants make good compost if they are not diseased. Leaves must be cleared from lawns and beds, but they also make good compost.   

I find that leaf and lawn rakes tend to wear away and the tines break. But at last I have found one big and strong enough. The Wilkinson Sword long-handled rake boasts ‘unbreakable’ resin tines with spring and excellent shape retention. It is wide enough to speed up the job and light enough to make it easy work.  

And if you have time for reading, may I suggest a new book, The Oxford Companion to the Garden. The dry title belies the wonderful contents of this surprising book, which is not about plants but the gardens that house them, and the people who created them, with fantastic photos of fabulous gardens. A delight to dip in to for a butterfly flit.  

Dr Holliday is a GP in Windsor  

This month’s tasks  

Plant fruit trees

Clear the garden for winter  

Compost undiseased bedding plants and leaves  

Read:  

Oxford Companion to the Garden, edited by Patrick Taylor. Published by Oxford University Press, priced £40. 

ISBN 10: 0198662556 

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