Sunday, June 22, 2008

Visiting the neighbour

It was one of those ridiculously fine spring mornings we have been having lately – ridiculous because it is the middle of winter – when I had donned a silly woollen hat, slipped on my golden earmuffs to protect what remains of my hearing, and got the old trusty red lawn mower to work. It was fun and easy, although I could not help but think it was too late in the year to still be mowing lawns!
I had almost finished when the young fellow who lives next door popped over to our shared box hedge and signalled he wanted a chat. He was sorry to have stopped my mowing (I was glad of the break) but could I pop over the hedge and see him when I had finished, as he had a few questions?
The neighbours are a lovely family – Mum, Dad and two little gorgeous blond girls – and I was happy to pay a social visit to discuss a few gardening queries. They are self-confessed tyros at the gardening game and wanted a few bits of advice.
One of the problems they wanted to talk about was moving some fruit trees out of the middle of their lawn. The previous owners planted a mini-orchard, with about three or four peaches and nectarines, a couple of plums and a couple of apples, scattered around an extensive back yard. They are not planted in any lines and the current owner finds it vexing to have to swerve and dodge the trees when he mows the lawn. I think they are also inconvenient when he rides his motorbike around the lawn!
He wanted to know whether he could move them.
Of course, winter is the right time to transplant most deciduous trees, and as these are not very big I am sure they will present no problems to move. In an ideal world he would have wrenched them earlier in the season, and then taken the trees carefully to their new site, but as they are only being moved a few metres into already extant garden beds, I am sure there will be no problem just lifting them now.
Home fruit growers will know only too well what the difference is between tree-ripened, home-grown fruit, and the fruit bought from the local supermarket. It is tastier, fresher, and most importantly, can be left on the tree to properly ripen. It is only tree-ripened fruit that has fully developed sweetness and flavour.
When I asked what varieties the apple trees were, the neighbour shrugged his shoulders and laughed.
“The type that has apples!” he answered.
I was asking because I think if I was growing one or two apples I would be looking to grow something that I could not get from the shops. I love the Wairarapa-bred ‘Royal Gala’ (which I see in now Britain’s most popular eating apple) and ‘Pacific Rose’ is hard to beat later in the season, but there are a few I would be looking seriously at.
A friend grows a number of unusual types, and I was surprised to be given a ‘Peasgood Nonsuch’ during the last season. This is a giant of an apple – colouring similar to Royal Gala but at least twice the size. It is an old variety – released in 1853 – and is very sweet. It bakes very well but is also a delicious fresh apple, and is a reliable cropper in the garden.
If you believe the old adage (and most of them are believable) about an apple a day keeping the doctor away, there are a couple of varieties you might want to try to seek out this year ‘Hetlina’ and ‘Monty’s Surprise.’
The New Zealand Tree Crops Association decided to put their heritage apples to the test, thinking that the older varieties might have higher levels of anti-oxidants and other beneficial compounds. They commissioned exhaustive analysis of their many varieties they were cultivating band two came out trumps.
‘Hetlina’ is a Czech variety, with reliable crops of medium sized red fruit. It is an early season variety carried on a disease resistant tree.
‘Monty’s Surprise’ is the name given to an ancient tree found growing in Manawatu. The large fruit are red splashed over light green, and are crisp. This late ripening variety is great for cooking and is also disease resistant. Sounds like a pleasant way to keep the doctor’s bills down.
If you would like to grow an apple but are very constrained as far as space goes, either espalier along a fence line, or grow some ‘Ballerina’ apples. These are columnar varieties growing perhaps three metres high but no more than 30 cm across. They are obviously well suited to growing in narrow beds, or even as accent plants in formal beds as they have such constricted growth. They are also excellent for growing in containers. There are a number of different varieties, mostly with dance names like ‘Bolero’, ‘Polka’ and ‘Waltz,’ from green-skinned to red, so it would pay to check these out too.
They may be ideal for my neighbours.
While I was visiting the elder daughter, nearly five, confidently rode past us on her bicycle. She is nearly five, and has the confidence of a new cyclist. She grinned like a Cheshire cat each time she went past, and each time she navigated the trailer nearby I gave a sigh of relief. On her last pass she was so intent to showing us her grin she managed to graze the trailer’s drawbar.
Maybe it is just as well those trees are going to be removed from the back yard. Sounds a whole lot safer to me.

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