As the leaves unclothe the trees and the bare bones of my garden are exposed, I find it nearly impossible to look around without thinking ‘I wonder if I could squeeze in another apple tree, or some blackcurrants, or maybe even some more blueberry bushes?’
It doesn’t help that we’re now entering that exciting time of year when trees and bushes can be purchased with their roots naked of all but a dusting of soil, at a fraction of their potted price. The bare-root season usually lasts from November to March here in the UK, when the plants are naturally dormant, but with modern cold-storage techniques some nurseries now manage to extend this window.
With prices pruned and sleepy plants oblivious to the rigours of transportation and transplanting, there’s no better time to plant a fab new fruit garden or think about how to add more crops to your wannabe orchard for maximum impact.
Fruiting Focal Points
There are plenty of show-stopping fruits that can be used to draw the eye and create a stunning focal point in the garden. Take blueberry bushes for instance: whether resplendent in startling shades of scarlet and gold in autumn or smothered in smoky blue berries in summer, these bonny bushes can make a drop-dead gorgeous feature with the added benefit of a mouth-watering harvest every year.
Apple tree blossom is always beautiful, and if you grow a cherry tree you’ll look forward all year to seeing it in full flower. Plums and pears are similarly attractive, and training a fruit tree as a pyramid not only looks rather daring in the garden, it has the real benefit of allowing sunlight to reach more of the fruits and aid ripening.
If your climate is mild enough, why not grow a citrus tree somewhere it will draw the eye? In cooler climates you’ll need to grow a dwarf variety in a large container and bring it into a conservatory to wait out winter, temporarily repurposing it as a dashing houseplant.
While on the subject of growing in containers, fruit plants in a beautiful container can make a unique focal point. As well as citrus, think of fruit bushes such as gooseberries and currants, blueberries or very dwarfing fruit trees. Strawberries are often grown in containers and even in hanging baskets, where they’re handily kept well out of the reach of marauding slugs.
As most soft fruit needs to be netted against birds, why not make a feature out of it? A fruit cage can be decorative as well as practical, and makes an excellent climbing frame for sweet peas. Avoid using the sunniest side for growing climbers, however, to avoid shading your fruit too much.
Scrumptious Screens and Boundaries
Barbara Pleasant wrote of using vining vegetables as boundaries and screens in a garden design, but climbing or clambering fruits can serve this purpose too. If you have a pergola or an arch in your garden, why not let a grapevine or kiwi clamber over it? The fruits will then dangle temptingly within easy reach.
Trained forms of fruits really come into their own when used to define or divide a garden. A fan shape suits figs and stone fruits such as plums and peaches, plus gooseberries, redcurrants and whitecurrants. Grow them in a sheltered spot against a wall or fence where they can bask in the sun.
In tight spaces you can also grow apples, pears, gooseberries, redcurrants and whitecurrants against a wall or fence as cordons. These can be trained with a single vertical stem or at a 45º angle, or alternatively with multiple ‘arms’ supported on wires.
Espalier-training a row of apples and pears makes a lovely decorative screen. In this form, the branches are trained horizontally in tiers, and they need support in the shape of strong wires on very stout posts. For bed or path edging, a variation on this is the step-over, most commonly used for apples. As the name implies, it’s like an espalier except it’s grown to knee level, usually with just one horizontal branch extending in either direction.
Edible Ground Cover
Strawberries make excellent, dense ground cover. Alpine or wild strawberries may not be as productive as their domesticated cousins, but they are particularly pretty with more delicate leaves, tiny white blossom and petite, jewel-like fruits that deliver a flavour explosion.
If you have a permanently damp area of acidic soil, it could be worth considering cranberries. These low-growing plants are often grown as ground cover beneath blueberries because they enjoy similar soil conditions. In any garden – decorative or otherwise – it’s always best to choose plants that will naturally thrive in your soil conditions and microclimate. It can save a lot of wasted hard work and heartache!
It’s fun to consider how fruit can fit into a garden, whether you’re designing from scratch or if your garden (like mine) is evolving gradually over time. Squeezing more fruit into your garden is always worthwhile, and you’ll never regret making space for it if you can feast your eyes as well as your belly.
What are your favourite ways to use fruit in a garden design? Share your ideas by dropping us a comment below.