When most people think of an orchard, they often think of something resembling a neatly laid-out forest; in fact, when varieties are carefully chosen and tended, even a modest-sized garden can accommodate an orchard worthy of the name. There is nothing to stop you growing apples, pears, peaches, cherries or plums in any garden, or on balconies, in patio pots or in conservatories and greenhouses.
Fruit trees, especially the smaller and neater branching varieties, also make superb decorative plants. In Japan people travel for miles each spring to see cherry trees blossom, with the blossom sweeping slowly up the country due to its diverse climate and weather patterns.
In small or medium gardens, the trick is to choose varieties that have been grafted onto a dwarfing rootstock. This allows you to enjoy almost any variety, but with a restricted overall size. Such trees will not exceed six to nine feet, even without being controlled by pruning. Braeburn, golden delicious and gala apple trees are all available in dwarf forms, as are comice and conference pears, sylvia cherries, and black amber or victoria plums. Oranges, lemons and limes are also readily available in varieties that will not outgrow your greenhouse or patio pots.
Nor does growing citrus or other soft fleshy fruits necessarily mean you must keep your greenhouse heaters on all winter. Peaches and cherries actually appreciate a little winter chill – but not frost.
When space is limited, spread is also an issue, of course. A traditional solution that is particularly easy with height-limited varieties is the ‘cordon’. By a combination of choosing cooperative varieties and some pruning when needed, cordon fruit trees have a single main stem and can be planted in rows, with each plant as little as two feet from the next. It is also traditional – but not essential – to persuade them to grow at an angle, as acute as 45 degrees, so that you have a longer fruit-bearing trunk at a convenient picking height. Support is usually provided by wire or fencing.
Although the amount of fruit borne per tree is obviously less on a smaller plant, the total amount you can get from a plantation of this type is excellent; for example, 10kg of apples per tree is achievable in a good year. Cordons are also very attractive, with lots of lovely blossom and fruit at eye-level.
Thinking of this in a medium-sized garden, you might easily accommodate five rows of a dozen trees each. This is an orchard of 60 fruit trees, yielding up to 600kg of fruit, with room to spare for a greenhouse, conservatory and pagoda!
Along the borders of your garden you might choose to let them grow taller and upright, providing a very attractive screen that improves your garden privacy.
On smaller plants in tighter spaces, such as cordons, it is a good tip to choose varieties that sprout mostly from main-stem spurs rather than predominantly from the tips of existing branches; otherwise, you are cutting off fruiting regions if you have to prune. Amongst the apples, russets and pink lady are particularly amenable to this.
Apples and pears are easier to train than citrus cherries, gages and peaches, so why not grow these in patio pots you can move into your greenhouse to overwinter?