Quinces in Scotland

We occasionally have available for sell the following Quinces: Vranja, Meech’s Prolific, Serbian Gold Smyrna and Portugal and are often asked how well they do in Scotland.Here are some notes gleaned from various articles and personal experience.

The quince, Cydonia oblonga,  famous for Cotignac and Marmalade, is a tree that can grow to 4 or 5m. It is probably native to Central Asia and the near East ( WJ Bean, 1970), but has been cultivated for many centuries. They were much esteemed in Italy, and Sanders suggests the Romans introduced them to Britain, and they reputedly grow wild in Sussex. Today they are still highly esteemed from southern Europe to as far as South America.In France they are called ‘Coins’.

Quinces

Quinces on a tree in North Fife Autumn 2013

It forms a rather scruffy bush or small tree, with a multitude of intertwining branches if not pruned. Autumn leaf colour can be very nice. They need a bit of cold in winter to promote flowering.

Hogg (1886) surprisingly only mentions apple shaped, pear shaped or Portugal types and no record of Victorian varieties. Bean names the Portugal variety as ‘Lusitanica’, Maliformis’ as the apple shaped and only two cultivars, Vranja and Bereczki.

Angers quince A , B and C are two selections used for producing dwarf pear trees.

Flowerdew lists the following:

The Portuguese: Pear shaped, vigorous, but slow to crop.

Vranja: ( Bereczki) From Serbia, large fruited, pear shaped erect growing tree.

Meech’s Prolific: Pear shaped, early to bear and late keeper. This comes from USA.

Champion: Round, mild flavoured.

Isaphan and Maliformis, are mentioned, and Orange, Pineapple and Smyrna occur in the US.

Importantly he mentions they are self-fertile though others suggest cross-pollination improves fertility. They flower in June in this country, a big open flower, white or pink. They are generally grown as a low standard / bush tree. I have rarely seen then pruned or trained in Scotland, but there is no reason why they cannot be trained to whatever shape you want. There is a garden in Church Stretton which has a wall topped with a pleached quince ‘’hedge’’. This proves that they can be trained! So ok to train them up a wall or fence.

 

Frequently quince bushes can  appear from the rootstock of a pear that has died – though i have not seen any fruit on these.

 

Quinces can be entirely left to their own devices, but ideally trees should regularly have some of the internal branches taken out to reduce the amount of congestion. Sunny, warm, and well-drained sites are preferred, avoid cold frost pockets.They are susceptible to leaf blight, especially any overgrown rootstocks, but larger specimens seem to be more resistant in Scotland.

 

40 years ago in South America school children were given Quinces for their packed lunch, which they ate raw with salt! However, in our climate they are generally used for jelly, jam or ‘cheese’.They are highly aromatic when ripe, and can be stored to ripen if necessary.

 

Other varieties available from UK Nurseries include Akvambari, Ekmek, Isofahan, Sobu, Seibosa, and Shams from Turkey and Iran.

 

Quinces are easy to grow, and looked beautiful when the fruits are ripening to a lovely lemon yellow on the tree. There are good examples around Scotland, notably St Andrews botanic gardens, and a private garden in North East Fife. A warm wall is likely to be beneficial to the ripening of fruit, or at least some shelter. When all the apples and pears have been picked, watch out for birds attacking them. Bordeaux mixture may be required if leaf blight takes hold

( Entomosporium maculatum).

The RHS suggest pruning all leaders on new tree to outward facing buds; this would promote a more open and wider bush. Allow at least 3 m between trees ideally.

The fruit is highly aromatic and can be used in small quantities to flavour apple pies etc.

 

The following varieties are listed in Wikipedia:

 

  • The ‘Bereczcki’
  • ‘Champion’
  • ‘Cooke’s Jumbo’ (syn. ‘Jumbo’)
  • ‘Dwarf Orange’
  • ‘Gamboa’
  • ‘Le Bourgeaut’
  • ‘Lescovacz’
  • ‘Ludovic’
  • ‘Maliformis’
  • ‘Meeches Prolific’
  • ‘Morava’
  • ‘Orange’ (syn. ‘Apple quince’)
  • ‘Perfume’
  • ‘Pineapple’
  • ‘Portugal’ (syn. ‘Lusitanica’)
  • ‘Siebosa’
  • ‘Smyrna’
  • ‘Van Deman’
  • ‘Vrajna’ (syn. ‘Bereczcki’)[6]

 

There are 16 entries in the RHS Hardy Plant Finder under Cydonia. Portugal is the probably the best quality but not so easy to grow here. Vranja and Meech’s Prolific, Smyrna and Serbian Gold are likely to be the more reliable here. They are easy to grow in any sheltered place in Scotland so why not give them a try?

 

Appletreeman would be very interested to learn of any unusual varieties you have successfully grown or your experiences with quinces in Scotland? email@plantsandapples.co.uk

refs:

Hogg’s Fruit Manual, 1886.

Flowerdew, Bob, Complete Fruit Book, 1997.

Bean WJ, revised 1970 ed. Trees and Shrubs Hardy in The British Isle.

Encyclopeadia of Gardening, RHS, 1992, Page 386.

Sanders, T.W., (1946?) Fruit and Its Cultivation, page 123. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quince_cheese

RHS Hardy Plant Finder 2004-2005.

 

Apple Trees and Flooding

Many of you will be planting new fruit trees this spring and will be wondering what effect all the rain will have on your trees. At present your trees are dormant and most likely you are planting them as ‘bare root’. It is well known that up to 90% of your trees roots may be killed when they are lifted out of the nursery and replanted, so it is very important you keep the roots moist and frost free to preserve what’s alive.

Tree roots need oxygen, and prolonged wet conditons will create anaerobic conditions and many more roots will suffocate. In spring, your trees will have a hard job growing new roots and getting the nutrients necessary to grow, flower and fruit.

Another worry is a fungus disease called Phytophora or collar rot which can attack your trees in the summer after a very wet winter.  So don’t exacerbate this situation avoid those wet hollows in your garden, don’t pile masses of compost around the roots,  and look forward to a nice dry spring and summer!

Also many beautiful productive fruit trees can blow over due to wet soil, so see to your drainage!

Windblown Tree

Medlars

Medlars are rather plain looking trees – admittedly they are rosaceae, but the flowers are just white amongst many other better rosaceae, so why are they of interest? They have been cultivated for thousands of years, and its very likely the Romans brought them here.
Well its the fruit, which is not quite like anything else! They are actually pomes, and are brown, earthy tasting and either hard or soft and almost rotten! They are about 5cm across and brown.We tried some at The Harmony garden at Melrose once, and they were definitely an acquired taste. They are in fact a useful late fruit as they aren’t ready until mid- winter.
So what are they used for. Traditionally they need to be ‘bletted’ i.e. until the frost has softened them. Some suggest this isn’t actually necessary.However, the best use of them is to make into jam or jelly.
They will grow almost anywhere, I have seen them at Kellie Castle in the lawn, and in a hedgerow at Broughty Ferry. Remembering where they are and getting the fruit is important if they’re in a hedgerow.

Medlars

Varieties generally available are the Dutch ( largest fruit), Nottingham ( more upright), and the Royal ( better flavour). Also Breda Giant and Russian clones. We sell Nottingham. All are self-fertile.Named varieties can be grown on Pear, Quince or Hawthorn. They come from the Caucasus, so cold winters and hot dry summers are a clue to their requirements. The dry warm soils of Broughty Ferry is probably about right. Bob Flowerdew suggests only remedial pruning as they fruit on the ends of shoots.

The RHS suggest the following: ‘’pick when the stalk parts from the tree in late Autumn, and dip the ends in in strong salt solution to prevent rotting…..store with calyces downward, on slatted trays. Use when the flesh is brown and soft’’.

Ooh I almost forgot to mention, they have lovely autumn colour!

Refs:
Flowerdew, Bob, Complete Fruit Book, 1997, page 169.
RHS Encyclopaedia of Gardening, Ed. C. Brickell, 1992, page 387.
Tree Fruit Growing, Raymond Bush, 1962, pages 288-289.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mespilus_germanica

Salad Days – Seasonally

Don’t get me wrong, I like lettuce. And rocket. I grow prodigious amounts of both, and eat most of it. It’s just that if there is none, I am never lost for salad ingredients. And when there is, I augment the tender crispness of lettuce and the bite of rocket with a host of other favourite ingredients from the garden and hedgerow.

Sorrel on chopping board, image from http://gggiraffe.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/ww-sorrel-and-lentil-soup.html

In spring and early summer, there is a wide choice of tender green leaves. Garlic Mustard, with big heart-shaped leaves, appears early obligingly self-sown in odd corners of the garden. Mildly garlicky, with a gentle bite of mustard. Our accidental pole of a lime tree (kept as a pole because there’s no room for a tree) produces the most succulent unfurling leaves before any lettuce is ready. Young shoots of Bishopsweed transfer from the weeding bucket to the plate via a good wash. Then the Sorrel family – Common and Buckler-leaf – provide sharp, lemony, bulky leaves – shred them to mix that sharpness through the salad. Sweet Cicely for a hint of aniseed. Rampion, an edible Campanula, produces a mass of tender leaves. Claytonia, or Miners’ Lettuce, which I’ve picked right through winter from the greenhouse bed, is joined by its cousin the Pink Purslane. New leaves of Wood Sorrel, looking like clover but with delicate white flowers, are found in the woods. It’s a refreshing appetiser when nibbled on a walk. For crunchy, succulent foliage, try the long linear leaves of Bucks Horn Plantain – branched at the ends like antlers. Or the round, slightly bitter but always tender leaves of Orpine, a native Sedum whose flowers bring out bees and butterflies in late summer.

As summer progresses, I add sweetly aromatic herbs to the salad bowl, chopping them finely to disperse the subtle aroma and flavour. My favourites are Golden Marjoram, Lemon Balm and Mint – but not just any mint. One of the citrus varieties – Orange, Lime or Lemon Mint, or Basil Mint, or best of all Eau de Cologne Mint. A little goes a long way! Basil itself, of course, contributes a domineering flavour, good with tomatoes. Judicious amounts of Chervil, Summer Savory or Dill with its cucumber tones can all be added. Salad Burnet or young Borage leaves taste similar.

Yellow Primroses, Ramsons from the woods and Cornflower petals are the first edible flowers to be added; later blue comes from borage flowers. Wild Pansies, bright orange Calendula, sweet white petals from my Jacobite Rose and gaudy Nasturtiums taste as good as they look. If I can stand to sacrifice them, I’ll eat Hemerocallis (Day Lily) flowers too, and the ones from my Clove Pinks.

Wild Strawberry

By now, wild strawberries are getting scattered over the salad bowl, and as summer wears towards autumn, fruit starts to dominate. Anything goes. Whole raspberries, blaeberries and whitecurrants; chopped red gooseberries; peaches and grapes from the greenhouses; brambles and elderberries and onwards till I am confronted by the autumn apple mountain – a source of material for my less frequent winter salads.

Nuts go well with apples; wild hazelnuts and walnuts from my neighbours’ tree, well-chopped. Now I will use the pickled ash keys I made in June and other preserves to spice up a winter salad. Greens come from the greenhouse – hardy winter Lamb’s Lettuce, Claytonia and hot Land Cress. Dried fruit, whether home-dried wild strawberries or conventional shop ones, I add liberally.

Salad Days may be over, but salads go on even in the depths of winter, till spring comes round again.

Plants for Bees (& Beekeepers!)

Bees are the most important pollinators of food crops in the world.

Native bees (bumble, carder and mountain bees) are most effective, while the honeybee is a source not only of pollination, but of honey, wax and a wide range of medicinal and cosmetic products. Honeybees have had a hard time, between varroa mites, pesticides and viruses, and loss of wild habitat has affected the natives.

It’s not surprising that so many people who love gardens and flowers love bees. Many, like ourselves, are beekeepers. Gardeners and beekeepers have become pivotal, in both ecology and economy.

There is a favourite saying of mine: “No bees, no honey; no work, no money”. But more to the point, no bees, no pollination; no pollination, no crops. And no crops, no…..? Yes. We are dependent on them.

By growing nectar plants to attract bumblebees, ensure a good honey crop from your own bees or just to enjoy the summery drone of insects in the garden, you’ll benefit all species – and get great fruit and bean crops to boot!

For long-tongued bumblebees we recommend BergamotComfreyHemp AgrimonySagePurple Knapweed and Valerian.

For honeybees and short-tongued bees grow HyssopMintLemon Balm (said to stop honeybees from swarming!), MeadowsweetMeadow Cranesbill and Catmint.

For an early source of nectar when the queens start laying, you must have Lungwort and Rosemary; for the important pre-winter nectar grow Purple LoosestrifeGlobe ThistleTeasel and Michaelmas Daisy.

Cotoneaster, apples, pears, non-ornamental cherries and currants (flowering or fruiting) will benefit both bees and birds.

The little-known (and under-used) Agastache family (especially Anise Hyssop and Korean Mint) are magnets for all kinds of bees and create superb colour in the garden as well.

Dealing with Thug Plants

“Let me have about me plants that are thugs…
…deep-rooted plants, that never sleep o’ nights.”

With apologies to Shakespeare, this is my mantra for maintaining an illusion of control over the garden. One gardener’s “invasive” is another’s “good spreader” – and good spreaders are what we favour to provide colour, limit (or eliminate) weeding, create habitats and stand up to both neighbouring thugs and garden pests, and hold their own against pathogens until kingdom come.

Some of my favourite thugs are:

Yellow Loosestrife (Lysimachia punctata)
This is such good value. Sturdy, upright stems, each one a spire of large yellow flowers in early to midsummer. It obligingly spreads underground to form an impressive, weed-excluding clump.

Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)
Irresistible starry white flowers in midsummer, above a cloud of pretty foliage that just spreads and spreads. I admit, ground elder comes up through it (and what’s wrong with that? very tasty), but the woodruff always wins. As well as being indestructible, it can be used to flavour wine…

Bistort or Pudding Dock (Polygonum bistorta)
Actually most of the Polygonum family make excellent thugs. Bistort gives large edible leaves and tall flower spikes in an incandescent pink. Ground cover understates it!

Hemp Agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum)
Tall clumps of fluffy pink late flowers, which will fill a large space, repel intruders and attract bees and butterflies.

Three-cornered Leek (Allium triquetrum)
Not the alien invader few-flowered leek, but related, with pretty flowers and deceptively winsome edible foliage that pops up anywhere, even in January!

Finally, and masochistically, there is Wild Strawberry (Fragaria vesca), so good for you, productive and delicious that we constantly overlook the fact that it’s taking over Perthshire. Be warned – choose plants to grow above it that are also thugs!

“…yon Petunia has a hot-house-hungry look; she wilts too much, such plants are dangerous…”

(Shakespeare, W: Julius Caesar, Act One, Scene Two – look it up!)

What is a wildlife garden?

We choose their plants with the aim of attracting, feeding or keeping wildlife safe in the garden. But it’s more than choosing the right plants, and more than a handy excuse for not doing any garden maintenance!

Most birds, beasts and bugs would prefer us not to garden at all, but allow nature to fill our plots with a riot of weeds and wilderness. If you’ve got space, you could do worse than part of it to go to the dogs (or the hedgehogs, blackbirds, lizards and bumblebees). But if you still want a garden – at least in part – you will need to be at least a little selective.

You’ll definitely want clumps of stinging nettles – the larval food source of many butterflies and moths, including the small tortoiseshell, red admiral and peacock. You will leave untidy piles of twigs and logs for wrens to nest in and toads to lurk under. Leaves will be left for beetles and centipedes to crawl though, and wet, boggy areas for dragonflies, damselflies and amphibians. You won’t worry too much if (when) it all looks a mess. Even slugs and snails will be a boon for attracting song thrushes.

Don’t worry if plants come up in the wrong place, or run to seed. Many birds will enjoy those apparently dead seed-heads in winter. We have developed a battery of sound ecological excuses for not being tidy gardeners!

So,

  • Seeding plants, such as teasels, milk thistles and wild oregano must be included if you want goldfinches and similar birds. Even plants with tiny seeds, like salad burnet are good and all these look dramatic in winter.
  • Shrubs with berries for fruit-loving birds and mammals. This includes the “spare” fruits on your currants, raspberries and crab apples! Be aware the blackbird will have ALL your cherries – and windfall apples will be very welcome to thrushes, fieldfares and jays.
  • Large-leaved plants, such as bistort, lungwort, elecampane and comfrey for amphibians to hide under.
  • Nectar plants with long flower tubes for butterflies. Orpine, bergamot, valerian and Welsh Onion get many visitors.
  • Evening flowering plants for moths. Try honeysuckle, evening primrose or sweet rocket.
  • Plants with flat flowers for hoverflies, drone flies, and lacewings. Yarrow is a good one, as are tansy and coriander.

Bees deserve a page of their own!

What is grafting?

What is grafting? It is the way in which gardeners have propagated their favourite fruit trees for centuries. There are many different ways of grafting, but they all involve joining up of the cambium which lies just under the bark of the twigs.

Side Veneer Grafting
Side Veneer Grafting

There is an easy amateur method called side veneer grafting, and for the more capable, saddle grafting. Using containerised trees you can relax in the warm, inside. Professional work would be done outside on field grown stock.

The principle is the same with all grafting and budding, that is to match up scion and rootstock as accurately as possible. Just fit one to the other and tie in with a few wraps of polythene – or biodegradeable tape. Do it in February, and remove the tape by July. The tree can be planted out the following year as a maiden.

Budding is a type of graft which uses a tiny bud of your tree which is inserted into a slot on a new rootstock. Chip Budding or T-budding are types of budding graft, which are usually done in August on trees growing outside.

Example of a T-bud
Example of a T-bud

If you want to graft a tree of your own, or learn a new technique, sign up for one of Appletreeman‘s grafting courses – check our events page for the next one.