As Chief (some might say 'only') Grower in the food garden here, I enjoy an opportunity to see what other people are up to, so it was with a happy heart that I went to have a good nosey around the orchards and trial grounds at RHS Wisley. Here's what I found.
Harking back to my perennial fascination with the art of pruning, I couldn't help but notice the way the apple trees have been shaped over the years. Look at the way whole branches have been pruned off these trees, leaving the centres open for ventilation and better pollination. The pruning cuts seen on young trees were also very edifying - look where the central leader has been removed on the tree in the middle. It's healed over, possibly a couple of years past, so I assume this shaping is to encourage production of fruit. Return visits with my membership mean that I can pop back to see how that's working out.
There's something very special about seeing this range of varieties and the ways in which the trees are managed. I'd love to know more and hope to find out on one of the Wisley courses. The Summer Fruit Pruning workshop in July looks mighty tempting and I'll definitely be thinning out my plum trees this summer so a boost of knowledge would be put to good use.
Onwards to the trained fruit. I do love the look of this, it's just so clever, so neat and tidy. I wish I'd known how to do this with our fruit trees at home. It not only looks beautiful but is productive and perfect for a small growing space or as an edible boundary. (I recall my grandad used espaliered apples to cleverly section off his allotment area from the rest of his 150 ft long garden.) A range of shapes can be seen: pear and cherry trees growing as fans, apples grown as step-overs and cordons against the shed.
I stopped to photograph the step-overs - making note of the tub that each tree is being grown in and how the length of the main stem has been bent and tied in with pruned spurs left for fruit bearing. I imagine they'll be moved in the future once the trial is finished and illustrates how well a tree will do in a good sized tub (and the right care).
I was intrigued by the way grapevines (top left) are being grown, up a column. Where's it going to go when it reaches the top - or will it be stopped? Very interesting, worth following up. It was the same in January when I came across a row of gooseberry standards. Eh? I thought they had to be grown in a low growing goblet shape (so the berries could be accessed without injury). I'll make a point of going back because if this works, this is very good news for growers with little space. I must admit that I've pruned my redcurrant bush as a standard although it hasn't given me more than a small bowlful of fruit yet!
There is much to be learned here. Strawberries are spaced far apart; at home, mine are pretty much crammed in as nature would have it. Not that I have an option, space is at a premium here, but I wonder what the benefits are of leaving that much room between plants. Bigger strawberries, do you think? Less slug attack?
|Note the straw mulch over the raspberry beds - a good way to keep the soil moist in hot or windy weather.|
And these raspberries… In the past I've pulled out all the runners, now I'm thinking I should leave a few as long as they stay within the set boundaries. What do others do, I wonder?
But it was the rhubarb trials that were the real eye-opener. Four wide beds with two plants of each cultivar growing on each side. There were over 60 rhubarb varieties growing there! Most I'd never heard of but noted the difference in size - the 'Earlies' were huge while others had barely started to put out leaves; others had much thicker stems and smaller leaves; some had the bulbous centre growth that also heralded the flowering of my rhubarb. Again, worth taking note of any varieties that appeal as rhubarb plants can produce over many years so choosing a monster plant for a small garden may cause regret. Plus, there's far more choice available than the local garden centre would have us believe.
But for any gardeners reading this who grow blackcurrants, I'll leave you with this advice from the RHS. Their bushes have been cut down to try and eradicate Big Bud Mite as indicated by this sign. I don't grow blackcurrants but, if I did, I'd be checking the buds right now.