Friday, 30 March 2012

Mirabelles

If you're looking for a small tree that's decorative and fruitful, add the uncommon-but-easy-to-grow mirabelle to your shortlist. You may have to look a little further than your local garden centre (and spell-checkers never recognise the word), but you may find that Prunus cerasifera is the tree for you.

In a race against the Asian plum (Lizzie) and the pluot (Flavour King), these are the first trees into flower in my garden. Depending on the year they will be in flower for much of March. Like the other fruiting plums they have beautiful pure white flowers that are produced densely all along the branches. They graceful delicate-looking in full bloom, but have proved to be tough and reliable. The leaves start to emerge just after the blossom has opened. They are a fresh pale mint green as they emerge creating an enchanting spring display; refreshing and cheering on a cool bright morning.

Mirabelle Golden Sphere
Mirabelle de Nancy is the easiest to find, available from Blackmoor, Thompson & Morgan and Keepers. Mine was from T&M. It produces small cherry-sized orange/speckled plums quite late in the season. It's not growing in an ideal spot, being in light shade for a good half of the day, but it still produces a respectable harvest. The plums are sweet fleshed with a tart skin. There were enough last year to tempt me into making mirabelle jam, which has been popular with the family damson jam fan.

Mirabelle golden sphere (pictured in the pot), is growing in a more favoured spot, but is obviously restricted to the pot. The small yellow/orange fruit are particularly sweet and rich, with some tartness. These are eaten straight from the tree whenever they look ripe. This one was ordered from Keepers, who have a wider range of mirabelle's than most.

Plant them is sun or partial shade, and give them a bit of potash in spring (or a general organic fertiliser like fish, blood and bone) if you're soil is not particularly good. If you're growing in pots, leave room at the top to add a handful of fertiliser covered with a fresh layer of compost or composted bark  each year. I also feed mine once or twice a month with a dilute tomato fertiliser. Keep them reasonably well watered, especially if you're growing them in containers. They need no regular pruning, just remove any damaged or badly-placed wood in  spring.  As with cherries and plums they should not be pruned in winter.

So far the trees have been largely trouble-free. Plum maggot (ick) found Nancy last year, so this year I've made sure to use grease bands around the trunks. 

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