WITH all the rain we’ve had in East Lothian, weeds sometimes seem to grow faster than my vegetables. Nonetheless, hardly a day passes without something to harvest.
Geoff Hamilton, who was one of my favourite TV gardeners, said: “gardening is half achievement and half optimism”. This is particularly true just now. There are early potatoes to dig, salads, courgettes and soft fruit. And the bounty continues until the first frosts, with pumpkins and squashes still to look forward to.
Vegetables and soft fruit are not the only allotment produce. A fruit tree is a permanent and trouble-free asset to a plot. I have a plum tree. As weeds threaten to overwhelm me, I am cheered up by the prospect of the plum crop just round the corner.
A really good way of making your allotment personal to you is to plant a fruit tree or two. I recently had a tour of Kate’s newly acquired plot on the idyllic site on Moncrieffe Island in the Tay. She had chosen a very special apple tree called the Bardsey Apple, renowned for its unique lemony flavour. It originates from the island of that name in Cardigan Bay, Wales, where an old apple tree grows against a house wall, perhaps descended from trees once grown in a Cistercian monastery orchard there.
On our site we have a legacy from Eddie, a former plotholder, who was challenged to prove his horticultural skills by grafting a medlar on to the rootstock of a whitebeam. The fruit is an acquired taste, but its beautiful blossom and link with the past ensure it continues to be cherished by the present plotholder.
Not all sites will have room for standard fruit trees, which could grow too big and cause a nuisance by shading your neighbours’ plots. However, fan-trained, cordon or step-over trees can make a lovely edible boundary. While supermarket bargains can occasionally be picked up, I think it’s important to choose carefully. It becomes easier to justify the additional expense of buying from a specialist if you remember that your tree will bear fruit for a generation or longer.
Ken Cox and Caroline Beaton’s new book, Fruit and Vegetables for Scotland, has a helpful chapter on fruit trees that thrive particularly well in Scotland, with some very specific regional advice to help you choose something ideally suited to your location and taste.
• Fruit and Vegetables for Scotland by Kenneth Cox and Caroline Beaton published by Birlinn is out now, priced £20.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 23 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 10 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 4 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 17 mph
Wind direction: North east