Updated: Nov 22, 2021
Even tiny gardens can be productive. Growing fruit is one of the best ways to pack lots of food into a restricted space. Using my three top tips, you'll be able to maximise your growing space for a fruitful year!
1. The Mighty Miniature
Many fruit trees come in miniature versions. In fact any of your favourite apples, pears, plums and cherries can be grown as a mini replica of the full sized original. This is all down to the way fruit trees are produced.
Instead of growing from seed, the vast majority of fruit trees are made by grafting a shoot onto a root. This means first cutting a shoot from the desired variety of fruit - a particular type of apple, plum, cherry or pear, for example. Once this shoot has been grafted onto a root system, it will grow to form a tree with exactly the same type of fruit as the original tree from which it was cut. So a shoot from a golden delicious apple tree will grow into a tree that makes golden delicious apples and a shoot from a conference pear tree will grow conference pears. The root system that the shoot has been grafted on to will determine how vigorously that tree grows. So there are root systems for very vigorous trees that will become 4-5m high or more, but there are also less vigorous root systems, that form trees that are between 1.2m and 3m. The table below lists the names of the smallest rooting stock for each type of fruit, along with the expected final size of your tree. This will give you an idea of what you can get away with. Any good supplier of fruit trees will be able to direct you to the appropriate trees, grown on the appropriate root stock for the space you have available.
APPLE | Roots - 'M27' | 1.2 - 1.8m
PEAR | Roots - 'Quince C' | 2.5 - 3m
PLUM | Roots - 'Torinel' | 2.4 - 3m
CHERRY | Roots - 'Gisela 5' | 2.4 - 3m
2. Fruity Beauty
In situations where there isn't enough space for both flower beds and fruit beds, integrate particularly attractive fruiting plants into traditional ornamental beds. Some of my favourite varieties include:
The evergreen blueberry 'Sunshine Blue' with its sweet white and pink bell shaped flowers in late spring, copious amounts of fruit from late summer into autumn and then beautiful soft pink blushed leaves throughout autumn and into winter. It has the added benefit of being more tolerant of neutral soils than most blueberries, making it an easy choice for any garden.
For an unusual, yet delicious addition to seasonal pies and crumbles, a great choice is Sambucus Nigra 'Black Lace'. This striking, dark red (almost black) leaved variety of Elder has large, soft-pink umbels of flowers in late spring. The berries that follow, have a great taste and as well as being brilliant mixed in to the usual fruity bakes, I rate them as making an even better cordial than the much loved version that can be made from their flowers.
A final recommendation is another unusual one - Chilean Guava. This small-leaved evergreen bush provides that all important permanent green presence to keep the garden looking good all year round, yet it also produces some really quite delicious little fruits and at an unusual time for berries - in mid to late Autumn. This little known fruiting shrub was said to be a favourite of Queen Victoria and having tasted them, I can see why! The fruit are dark red and resemble small blueberries. If they weren't so tasty, they would make good festive picks for a winter wreath or other home-grown decorations.
3. Fruiting Green Walls
Green walls are all the rage at the moment and there's no reason why fruiting plants can't be integrated into this kind of a scheme to maximise fruit-cover in a small area.
Many green wall schemes use a series of planting pockets. Strawberries are ideal for this type of a system and can be planted into one of the off the shelf green wall systems or into a DIY equivalent, to give a solid wall of fruit. Mix early, mid and late varieties of strawberries for a long season of summer pickings.
Another way to use the vertical plane is to grow climbing fruit, such as kiwis or grapes. These vigorous climbers can extend up walls, fences and over the tops of pergolas or garden archways. With kiwis, look out for self fertile varieties to avoid needing two or more plants. When growing grapes, look out for modern seedless varieties for the best eating and be sure to match the plant's vigour with the space you have available - just make sure you're aware how big the plant is going to try to get as some are extremely vigorous!
The last technique to consider is to buy fruit trees or bushes that you will train to grow against a vertical plane - a wall or fence, for example. This needs quite specific pruning and training, depending on the type of fruit you want to grow and there are lots of excellent books dedicated to fruit pruning that explain the techniques you would need for this.
Apples and pears can be trained as espaliers, which means they have a central trunk and a series of horizontal branches coming off it that grow flat against their wall. Plums and other stone fruit, such as peaches and apricots, are grown in a fan arrangement, with a series of branches radiating out from a low trunk, to cover their wall or fence. Currant bushes, such as red currants, black currants and gooseberries can also be fan trained.
For even tighter spacing, consider cordon trained fruit - this is a single stem with fruiting spurs growing all along it. Traditionally stems are grown diagonally but they can also be grown vertically as a 'columnar' tree. This method can be used for tree fruit, such as apples, pears and plums, as well as for currants, such as red currants and gooseberries. Black currants can't be grown this way as they just keep on trying to produce loads of stems all the time!
So if you are a fan of fruit and fancy growing some more of it, I hope my top tips have given you some good ideas for how to integrate fruiting plants into your outdoor space. Please do get in touch if you'd like some help setting any of this up. I'm available to work out planting plans, for example, or can come and demonstrate how to get any wall-trained plants into shape - ask here about my planting plan services or bespoke consultation sessions.