Friday, 30 March 2012


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. 

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Peach Leaf Curl Update

Peach leaf curl rates under the Serenade bacteria spray are looking about the same as they did last year following spraying with an "organic" copper fungicide.  Again there is a big difference between the number of infected leaves by tree type:

Dwarf nectarine Nectarella is the worst affected, most leaves at the tips of branches are curled, leaves further down are largely OK. Perhaps the spray adheres less well to the shoot tips, or shoot tips are particularly susceptible.

Dwarf Peach Bonanza (pictured below) shows a slightly less infection, again concentrated on the shoot tips. Leaves are still emerging, so this may or may not be the full story. Showed a few infected leaves last year.

Dwarf Peach Bonanza showing peach leaf curl after winter Serenade treatmen
Nectarine Flavour Top also has a handful of infected leaves; a smaller proportion than the dwarf peach. It doesn't look too bad. Nectarine Flavour Top didn't show much infection last year either, but since I bought it the summer before from Blackmoor's I expect it was sprayed on the nursery over the previous winter.

The two Avalon Pride peach trees are once again clear of leaf curl, fingers crossed that they stay that way. If you don't want to spray, this is absolutely the peach tree for you. You can buy Avalon Pride at T&M.

Two more peach trees, Saturn and Redwing are yet to come into flower or leaf (new last winter, so will have been shipped from cold-storage), they've been sprayed with Serenade, but may also have been sprayed on the nursery, so we won't know how they fare until next year.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Peach Leaf Curl

This year I'm trying a completely environmentally-friendly approach to treating peach-leaf curl, by using a new product called "Serenade."  Flushed with success using the bacteria-based treatment Bacillus Thunbergensis (or BT / Dipel) to kill-off cabbage white caterpillars before they can devastate a brassica crop;  I've forgone the usual copper-based fungicide application in favour of using Serenade, which contains another commonly-soil-based-bacteria called Bacillus Subtilis.

In mid-late February all peaches and nectarines were sprayed at least twice with Serenade at twice the stated concentration (based on research from Canada this double concentration gave peach leaf curl control similar to standard fungicidal controls).  

the leaves are just starting to emerge on the nectarines (left), which are always a little ahead of the peaches.  The young leaves are usually flushed with red, so it's hard to see how many have been infected by peach leaf curl.

Last year one dwarf nectarine was very badly infected and all of the fruit remained green and stunted, until I felt sorry for it and took them off at the end of the season.  Avalon Pride was completely unaffected. New peaches this year are Saturn and  Redwing (which is purported to be partially resistant).  

I'll let you know how the new regime is faring by variety.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Early Plums in Full Bloom

The very early Asian plums, Lizzie, are in full bloom this week and have been joined by the Pluot Flavour King.  No signs of flowering from Flavour Supreme yet.

Asian Plum, Lizzie, blooming in mid-March, Yorkshire

Saturday, 3 March 2012

The scent of winter drawing to a close

The garden is a surprisingly fragrant place at the moment; a little sunshine and the delights of witch hazel, winter honeysuckle, and the lovely spicy honey scents of erysimum spring up on the lightest breeze. In the conservatory-come-greenhouse, freesias left to bake over the summer are now coming into bloom. The flowers have one of the most sweetly marvellous scents of all.  For the scents of late winter you'll have to brave the cold, but here are some of the colours!

Witch Hazel

Hellebore, Tricastin
Above, the bright, spidery, waxy flowers of Witch hazel flowers in a combination of bright sunny yellow and dark berry red are a true winter treat. They seem to be indestructible, shrugging off any weather to giving off their unique sweet scent whenever a ray of sunshine lights them up.

Left, the beautiful flowers of the late winter flowering Hellebore Tricyrtis. It's taken two years to get itself established, but is now producing  snowy-white flowers with beautiful dark pink speckling.  Like many hellebores the flowers are gently nodding, so you need to get down to their level for the best view. Muddy knees are a small price to pay for a glimpse of this winter beauty. From Parkers.

The (relatively) mild winter here in Yorkshire has meant that the evergreen erysimums have been in flower almost all winter. The ones pictured below have a vanilla-honey-spice scent that's just lovely when it catches you by surprise on light winter breeze. One of the scented pack from Thompson and Morgan last year, which managed to lose their individual labels.  Have a look at their erysimum collection and see if you can tell which one this is!

Meanwhile, in the somewhat more sheltered conditions of the unheated conservatory, the freesias have come into their glory. I can forgive their floppy leaves refusing to stay upright no matter what support I give them, as soon as the first bud bursts open and that wonderful scent draws me in. Heavenly.

overwintered freesias
Freesias available from Thompson and Morgan as plug plants for late summer flowers.