realenglishfruit

Top fruit tree growing advice and information from Real English Fruit

Tag Archives: greengage

Fruit trees in containers

Image from page 133 of "Childs' rare flowers, vegetables & fruits for 1895" (1895)

Image from page 133 of “Childs’ rare flowers, vegetables & fruits for 1895” (1895)

A reader writes: “Is it possible to grow fruit trees, in particular a cherry and a greengage, in wooden or plastic containers on a patio?”

Yes, the important thing is to ensure that the containers are of sufficent size, to create stability and preventing them from being blown over by strong winds.

You can grow a cherry and a green gage tree in containers provided the trees are self-fertile and the containers are not too small. The bigger the container the better. The wooden container need to be no smaller than 50cm long, 30cm wide and 35 cm deep, and they have to have 2 decent size drainage holes, covered with broken clay pots to stop the drainage holes from blocking up.

The compost to be used is John Innes compost number 3, which is soil-based compost. As long as the trees are watered regularly during the growing season then the trees will be fine. Put the wooden containers on bricks and check that the water is coming out of the drainage holes. Feed the trees regularly and use the colour of the leaf as the indicator of the tree’s health and overall well-being.

If you are looking for fruit trees to purchase and plant right away (now is the right time for planting!), take a look at our Tree Varieties page.

Which are the best fruit trees for the UK?

A good crop on a well-tended apple tree

A good crop on a well-tended apple tree

Which type of tree fruit carries the least risk and is successful on most soils in the UK? Undoubtedly this is apple. Choice of variety is important, as normally it is colder in the north of England. Temperature during blossom time is of great importance in order to secure a good fruit set. Also in the northerly counties the type of pollinator will have to be chosen carefully. If you would like to plant some fruit trees, in any particular area of the UK, then we are happy to advise which varieties need to be in the Orchard Pack.

A second question of importance is this; which type of fruit is more able to cope with areas of high rain fall? Plums and pears, provided the soil is not too acid, usually do well in the higher rainfall areas. Pears in particular are very sensitive to droughty conditions and thin soils. Cherries love deep soils. Greengages need the right companion in order to crop well. Cherries and greengages are more suited to central and southern counties. This does not apply to Morello cherries as these trees flower later.

What about peaches, nectarines and apricots? These fruits have a much higher demand of warmth and hours of sunshine during the growing season. However, if grown on the right rootstock and placed against a wall facing south, with sufficient t.l.c. and regular watering during dry and warm periods, during the summer months, the net result often is excellent. Click here to see a list of varieties available to purchase.

Frame for fleece on an espalier tree

The historical background of the greengage

Many people think that the greengage is a real English type of fruit. Often people are puzzled why it is so difficult to grow regular crops of greengages. The real reason is that the home of this delicious fruit variety was originally in the country of Armenia. Smallholdings there often had some of these trees, and the fruit was used simply to meet the families’ needs. But already by the 15th century these fruits were sold -often dried, so they would keep longer – to passing traders en route to the West to sell their silk fabrics. In addition to greengages, fruits such as dates, nuts and almonds were also sold.

This trading route was known as the Silk Road, connecting China, Central Asia, the Balkans, including Georgia and Armenia, to the West of Europe.

In this way, the greengage arrived in Greece around 1500, Italy around 1600, and France in about 1700. During the reign of King Francis I, in the 18th century, the fruits were introduced to Claude, the queen. She was delighted with these small, delicious fruits, and they became known as the Reine Claude variety. An English nobleman named Sir Thomas Gage, visiting France at that time, was equally delighted with the flavour of these fruits. So he introduced the fruits to England and renamed them after himself. The name stuck and so today this type of fruit, green to golden in colour, is still known in the UK as the “GREEN GAGE”.

So why are these little fruits so outstanding, flavour-wise? In my view, this is directly related to where these types of fruit were developed in ancient times. Armenia, which is situated between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, has an ideal fruit-growing climate, with cold winters and warm dry summers. The particular sweetness of the fruit, now firmly established in the greengage’s genetic make-up, is a result of adaptation to the warm and dry summer climatic conditions.

Although fruit tree grafting was already practiced as early as the eighth and ninth centuries, the reproduction of the greengage type of plum took place by simply planting the stones of these fruits. It is for this reason that the true greengage has not lost its delicate sweetness, unrivalled by any other fruit. But the successful growing of greengages in England is a real challenge.

Greengages, photo courtesy of Tiggins Meadow/flickr.com

Greengages, photo courtesy of Tiggins Meadow/flickr.com

The greengage and the Armenian connection

Many people all over the world know the plum and consider these fruits nice to eat when mature and freshly picked. However, mention the word “greengage” and most people today have no idea of what you are talking about. And yet, as a type of plum, it is so delicate and flavourful that it is rightly considered as the most flavoursome of all the tree fruits known.

Let us compare the greengage with other fruits grown in the moderate climate zone. In a ranking of soft fruits, many would consider the raspberry to be at the top. Of all the fruits grown on trees, the greengage is rightly considered as unsurpassed in delicacy and flavour, when freshly picked and fully mature . So why are these trees and their fruits not better known? Why are these fruits, when in season, not more regularly available in modern supermarkets? Even in France and Italy it is more widely available on street markets when in season, but not in supermarket outlets.

In the UK, this special plum is known as a Greengage. If you spoke to people in Holland, for example, about this fruit, they wouldn’t know what you are talking about!

There are several reasons for this relative obscurity. One of the reasons is that this particular group of plums is only commercially success for a very small band of dedicated fruit growers, wherever they are grown. However if grown with plenty of TLC and dedication in the garden, the fruits are so special they need to be reserved for your own family and only the best of friends. If the crop is heavy, which is never the case 3 years in a row, it makes the most tasty of all jams.

Because of the quality of these fruits and my many years of experience of trying to grow these fruits, I consider it worthwhile to record my findings along with some historical background for these wonderful plums. The reader may want to skip various sections of this report. For that reason I will group the various details in a series of posts, as follows:

1) Historical background,
2) The most suitable sites for these plums,
3) Most suitable soils and their maintenance,
4) The different varieties available,
5) The essentials of growing these varieties,
6) The pruning needs of these plums,
7) Successful control of the pests and diseases.

In the photo below, greengages, photo courtesy of Rain Rabbit/flickr.com

20150610-091112.jpg

Early Transparent Gage

This is an early flowering gage of delicious flavour. Very suitable for gardens with a spare wall to train along. It is self fertile.

Make sure you cover the tree with garden fleece if night frost is forecast when in bloom in April. It is very hardy and has stood the test of time. It is a regular cropper. The image below is published courtesy of www.nationalfruitcollection.org.uk

early transparent gage