30 Apr 2015

A fruitful visit to RHS Wisley's orchards



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.









18 comments:

  1. I've read about big bud mites in a book but thankfully my blackcurrants are fine. This year at least! Sounds like a fascinating day out for you x

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    1. Whew! And you know what to look out for. Maybe these pests are worse in the south where the climate is softer. Any garden is a good day out for me but Wisley is such a learning curve as well. x

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  2. I do admire clever pruning, and you have me wondering, again, whether we could use fan-trained fruit as a semi-transparent screen round part of the seating area. When we actually have a seating area, rather than the ratty terrace and weedy gravel!

    Re raspberries, I leave the runners that are within the confines of the bed and dig out the spreaders - I've had some pop up over 8' away, but happily was able to pot them up and offload them on to a friend. Along with my gooseberry, which was wonderfully healthy but way too prickly to keep where it was!

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    1. Oh me too, Janet! I meant to post pictures of the espaliered pears that I photographed in January alongside the same plant in April. In January the pruning cuts were very clear - this was on a pear espaliered with arms coming from a single trunk, like an Indian goddess. I love your idea of an edible fruit screen, especially since it would be lovely and green in the summer when you'd want to be outside.
      The distance that raspberry runners travel is the reason I pull them up in my tiny space. I'm experimenting with pushing slate tiles into the edge of the bed to restrain the runners. Good to know a gooseberry can be moved, that might be my job for next year.

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  3. I renewed my RHS subscription at the start of the year and I'm enjoying visiting Harlow Carr each month. I think a lot can me learned by visiting the same garden time and time again, it will be interesting to see how the fruit trees and bushes in your post do throughout the year, and of course, in subsequent years. Fruit is a long term commitment so the care given to it in one year may not have an effect until a few years on.

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    1. I agree, Jo. I love the freedom that a membership gives me to just visit the garden on a whim (or a sunny day!). Have you tried any of the courses at Harlow Carr? I've been very impressed with the range of courses on offer at Wisley - the opportunity of learning from highly experienced gardeners is very appealing!

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  4. What a fascinating place for a wander round. Bob Flowerdew grows grape vines in pots and they only have a short stem. I always wonder where all the rest of the growth is. I have grapes on a fence and they literally cover it, and I have to cut back masses in the summer, usually twice. Wisley must be such an interesting place, I'm sure I'd learn loads on every visit. I'm quite obsessed with growing fruit, particularly fruit trees, they're wonderful. How good it would be to taste all of the different varieties before deciding which one to grow. CJ xx

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    1. Ooh, I really admire Bob Flowerdew! How do you know about his grapevines? I'd be very interested in growing a grapevine in a pot - I'm very tempted to read his Organic gardening Bible, there's an updated version just out. Wisley is amazing (as are, probably, all the RHS gardens but I've only been to Wisley) and, yes, for a keen gardener there's masses to observe throughout the year. And there's a tasting in Autumn on Apple Day (and at the Harvest Festivals). Still, I shouldn't be wishing the year away! Have a good weekend, CJ, xx

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  5. An enjoyable, and informative, post and pictures. I wish that I had room to grow a few dwarf fruit trees on the plot. Flighty xx

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    1. Thanks, Flighty. I have lots of space in the communal gardens here but it's a question of finance and permission to use the space! I dream of digging up one of the long grass borders and planting it up, particularly as it's not used. I'm going to try sneaking in some sunflowers this year … ;) x

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  6. What an interesting post...and very timely as I only planted my new apple trees in the ground this past week. Pruning edible trees always seems like such a scary proposition, especially when they are young. I did do a bit of pruning right after I planted the trees, based on the recommendations of the nursery - thankfully, they gave very specific instructions (i.e. cut the leader back to 45cm above the highest branch), etc. I am so paranoid about making a mistake, it was nice to have someone "hold my hand", so to speak, when doing those first cuts.

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    1. Sounds like your nursery gave you good advice, Margaret. How lovely to be planting new fruit trees; I find the potential in each new tree planted to be quite thrilling. Hope you'll be blogging about how you get on with them!

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  7. Thanks for sharing your visit with us Caro. I must admit to being perplexed by the intricacies of pruning fruit tree pruning so posts like this are most welcome. I think that I should have removed the central leader from one of my apple trees this winter but I chickened out. As for the grape in my allotment greenhouse I wouldn't know where to start.

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    1. I tend to be a bit gung-ho with pruning, Anna (I also love cutting hair, perhaps I've missed my calling as a topiarist!) so if I see any books on pruning, I read them. Have just taken an excellent pruning book from the library - it's by Lee Reich if you're interested and covers pruning of everything! I think the best time to whip the leader off any newish fruit tree is late summer, then you're pruning for shape.

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  8. what an amazing place to visit. it would be so educational to see how the experts manage everything. I particularly liked the informative blackcurrant sign. they obviously put a lot of thought into everything.
    oh, and 60 varieties of rhubarb? i'm awestruck!

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    1. So was I, e/dig!! Wisley is amazing, there's always such a variety to see but late summer is my favourite time there. I just wish I was young enough to start over and be an apprentice there!

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  9. A very informative post, I have picked you some useful information from here! We have just bought a step over tree, have started growing another apple tree in a pot. I have also been thinking of growing the gooseberry bush into a standard and also have a blackcurrant bush and grape vine! Sarah x

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    1. Wow, what a happy coincidence, Sarah! I shall be sure to pop back and report how Wisley is progressing and hope you'll keep us posted on your blog too! Caro x

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