Friday 7 December 2012

Peaches on the Patio, nectarines too!

Nectarine 'Garden Beauty'
I am all for gardens becoming more productive; after all there is nothing more satisfying than eating something you’ve grown.  Also home grown produce has the taste factor; it hasn’t been chilled, stored handled and packed before you eat it. However on the other hand I do want my garden to look beautiful, especially the parts nearest the house which I look at throughout the year.  I’m just not prepared to tolerate an unsightly plant or container just because it’s producing something edible.  In my opinion a brightly coloured plastic growbag is just not for the patio: it needs to be hidden somewhere out of sight, however good the tomatoes! 
Nectarine 'Garden Beauty'

Blueberries have become deservedly popular subjects for patio pots.  They are attractive shrubs, with tiny bell-shaped flowers that develop into a surprisingly good crop of luscious blueberries. These aromatic and delicious fruits are useful, even in small numbers to liven up a yogurt or your breakfast cereal.  Grow them in ericaceous John Innes compost, keep them watered and in an open sunny position and they will reward with fruit and fabulous autumn colour.

Nectarine 'Garden Beauty'

Peach 'Terrace Diamond'

Now if I was looking for a fruit to team up with a few blueberries I would choose a nice ripe peach or nectarine. I love both, especially when I can pick sun-warmed fruit straight from the tree. They are normally most successful in gardens when grown against a sunny south or west-facing wall; that is unless you grow one of the fabulous dwarf patio varieties. These make exquisite compact miniature standard trees with divine blossom in spring and succulent fruits in summer. Now that’s a productive plant I don’t mind looking at!

The two I would recommend are: Peach “Terrace Diamond”, with single pink flowers, followed by white flesh fruits. It is self fertile and the fruits ripen in mid August. And Nectarine “Garden Beauty”, with double pink flowers, followed by yellow flesh fruits. It is self fertile and ripens in late August and September.
Peach 'Terrace Diamond'
Both are ideally suited to large pots (45cm diameter or more) filled with John Innes No.3 compost. They will require annual feeding with either Vitax Q4 professional compost or rose fertiliser.  In early spring scrape off the surface of the compost, add a handful of fertiliser and top up with more John Innes. The delicate blossoms can be susceptible to frost, because they flower so early in spring. So put your peach or nectarine in a sunny, sheltered situation, or protect with horticultural fleece. Because they are dwarf and compact they are  easy to cover with a horticultural fleece jacket.  
So what do I hate about peaches and nectarines?  Leaf curl!  That’s the fungal disease that causes those red blisters and disfiguration which ruins the otherwise attractive foliage. The problem is the fungal pathogen, Venturia inequalis, the spores of which are spread in rainfall in late winter and early spring.  Here’s the clever bit.  If you put an umbrella over the plant from late December through to March you won’t get leaf curl.  If you have a large tree, or even a peach trained on a wall, that can be tricky. But with one of these patio peaches or nectarines an old golfing brolly will do the trick.  Healthy foliage, beautiful flowers and delicious juicy fruit straight from the tree; what more could one ask for? Maybe one as a Christmas present…………………..

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Zest for Life: Growing Citrus at home: time to try a kumquat!

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The smell of citrus, cloves and cinnamon somehow captures the whole spirit of the festive season; a Clementine in the toe of your stocking and a bowlful on the dresser.  A slice of lemon in the gin and tonic, and the zest of the fruit in your mince pies, Christmas cake and pudding; the joys of christmas.
I remember selling the calamondin orange as a Christmas pot plant when I was still at school; we always sold one or two in that last week running up to Christmas, usually to the residents of the expensive apartments on Avenue Road. In those days they arrived individually boxed from Rochfords houseplants, and I remember my excitement at finding a few of stray fruit in the bottom of the box.  This meant I could try them, and answer that question that everyone asked: “can you eat them?”
In fact the calamondin orange, with its small clementine-like fruit was quite bitter and dry, but the flavour was intense, especially from the skin. We always recommended them as an addition to drinks or preserves; whether anyone ever used them was a different matter.
Today I grow a lemon tree in the conservatory in winter and outside on the patio in summer.  At this stage my plant is covered with promising buds, and the small green embryo fruits are swelling.  Any day now a few flowers will open, and fill the cool morning air of the conservatory with their sweet fragrance. The scent is spicier than that of the Jasmine, which blooms in the New Year; heavy and delicious.  Usually by now there are golden yellow ripe lemons hanging on the plant, unwaxed, full of juice and deliciously aromatic; as different from a shop-bought lemon as frost from fire.
So what’s the drawback with growing your own lemons? The plants do go through their unprepossessing stages.  They shed a few leaves; occasionally get scale insects on the foliage, which leave behind those black sooty deposits.  Usually by late spring the plants look a little tired so its time for the summer holiday outside. I cut them back at this stage too.
So what about other citrus? Are they worth growing? One is, and I’ve discovered that it’s the star of the show: The Kumquat.  Small, dark green abundant leaves on compact plants, the kumquat is most attractive grown as a short standard.  It produces wonderfully fragrant waxy white flowers followed by shining green embryo fruits; these eventually develop into golden-orange drops hanging from the plant.  It fruits more freely than other citrus, is more suited to growing on a light, cool windowsill, and is by far the most attractive of all citrus fruits. What’s more the fruits are delicious picked ripe from the plant, in jams and preserves, fruit salads and other deserts. 
All you have to do with your kumquat is five it a light airy position close to a window, or in a cool greenhouse or conservatory.  It is not hardy so will not survive the winter outside, but it does not need heat.  An unheated conservatory that is reasonably frost free is ideal. 
Water your kumquat regularly but do not overwater, allow the compost to almost dry out between waterings. Feed with citrus or tomato fertiliser from spring through to autumn, and by all means stand outside in summer in an open sunny position.  Out on the patio in summer the flowers are more likely to be pollinated by bees and other insects than they are indoors. 
To celebrate your success: Cut a ripe kumquat in half and pop it in the bottom of a cocktail glass.  Add a teaspoon of dry vermouth. Top up the glass with your best vodka straight from the freezer.  Stir very gently with a cocktail stirrer. Enjoy!  After a couple your kumquat will miraculously have more fruit, or at least it will appear so!
A kumquat would make a wonderful gift for any plant lover, with or without the vodka. I would certainly be delighted if someone gave me one for Christmas…..hint……