Whether it’s an allotment or garden, most of us don’t have a lot of growing space and have ambitions greater than room will allow. There are ways of maximising space though. Fruit bushes and even trees can be trained in all sorts of ways making it possible to fit quite a selection into a small area. With careful planning and some nifty work with the secateurs it’s surprising just how much you can grow.
My tayberry is a perfect example. A cross between a raspberry and a blackberry its growth habits are certainly more blackberry than raspberry. The canes it sends out are long, really long, up to 9ft. It’s also a biennial cropper which means that it sends out canes one year which then flower and fruit the next. The idea when I first planted it was to train it into a panel of wire fencing with one year’s canes which would be bearing the fruit trained in one direction and then the fresh canes it sent up during that growing season trained the other. That was the plan anyway. I just didn’t give the plant enough space or metal fencing for this method to actually work. Instead, I ended up weaving and winding the canes around the metal support in a snake-like fashion. The problem came when the new canes started to grow from the base during the summer. It’s important to keep the two different years’ growth separate so that when you come to prune out the canes that have fruited you don’t mistake any of next year’s growth. If you do you’ll have no fruit the following year. In the end, I ended up allowing these stems to simply grow out along the ground. By August, the tayberry had stopped fruiting and I pruned those canes out at the base and removed all the growth that was on the metal support. The task then was to wrestle with the new growth. Fortunately, the canes remain really pliable and apart from the vicious thorns (you can buy a thorn-free variety) it isn’t too difficult a job to wind these stems in and out of the fence support, snaking them around just as the others had been. It is a bit of a faff but doing it this way means my tayberry only takes up a space of about 4ft. Ideally, each year’s worth of growth would have a space of about 6ft so that’s a space of 12ft in total but I’m not sure many of us could devote that to one plant.
A fellow allotmenteer has employed the same strategy successfully with a hybrid blackberry and Naomi at Out of my Shed recently wrote about training her Japanese wineberry which has very similar sprawling growth. Her ideas are much more aesthetic than mine! This summer I visited the kitchen garden of a local restaurant and I loved the idea they had had of growing a thorn free variety of blackberry up one side of an arch and on the other an apple was being trained to form an apple and blackberry crumble archway.
I dream of having my own orchard but at the moment it certainly isn’t a possibility but I did manage to squeeze in an espalier apple tree into the garden last spring. I was impatient and so bought one that came already trained into 2 tiers but when I pruned it in July I spotted two branches that looked like the beginnings of a third level. With the posts and wire in place for the tree already Wellyman added another line of wire and I tied some twine around the 2 stems to the wire to start training the branches down into a horizontal position. We only got 6 fruit from the tree this year but I’m hopeful as the tree gets older that we should get a good supply.
I have toyed with the idea of adding some stepover apples to one of my beds at the allotment. These are the type that grow to about 1ft in height before the branches are trained out horizontally. I really like the idea that I could get several varieties running down the edge of one of my beds with space to grow salad crops which would not make great demands on the soil. Charles Dowding successfully grows crops like this at the base of his larger apple trees. Pruning of fruit trees grown in this way might seem quite daunting but armed with my RHS encyclopaedia it wasn’t actually that difficult. It is mainly about keeping the shape of the trained tree and encouraging fruiting wood by keeping the stems short and stubby. One of the great advantages of all this pruning and contorting is that it actually encourages the plants to produce more fruit, a bonus in a small space.
Pears, cherries and nectarines can be trained to fit smaller spaces and gooseberries can be made into beautiful standards giving your kitchen garden or allotment a sophisticated air. Currants can also be trained and look beautiful up against a wall dripping in glistening fruit. By concentrating growth to fewer stems and opening up the plant more light can get to the wood to ripen it, important for fruit production. It also means fruit will ripen more quickly and air flow around the plant is improved, leading to fewer problems with fungal diseases.
I’d love to see any of your own examples of growing fruit in small spaces.