Garden View: The Fruit Tree Solution
Liza Gyllenhaal is the author of the novels Local Knowledge, So Near, and A Place for Us, all set in the Rural Intelligence region. She and her husband divide their time between Manhattan and West Stockbridge, MA where she writes — and putters around in her garden. We’re pleased to share her occasional musings on gardening and other topics with RI readers.
A lovely old pear tree grew outside my childhood bedroom, and the memory of its sweet-smelling petals drifting past my window has always filled me with a mixture of joy and longing. So, several years ago, I decided to plant some fruit trees of my own on our property in the Berkshires. If all the many old, abandoned orchards in the area were any indication, fruit trees flourish in our rocky, temperamental southern New England climate. I signed up for a class at the Berkshire Botanical Garden called Growig Fruit Trees for Fun and Profit. But the very first words out of the instructor’s mouth were “don’t even think about starting an orchard unless you intend to fence the area in with sturdy, preferably barbed-wire fencing or the deer will destroy whatever you try to grow.”
I was crest-fallen. I didn’t want a heavy-duty fence running around my orchard — especially not one with barbed wire — as it was the beauty of the trees themselves as much as the eventual fruit that appealed to me. Besides, we already had a fenced-in vegetable garden. It took a trip to France that fall — and a serendipitous visit to a cloister with a long row of beautiful old espaliered fruit trees — for me to settle upon the perfect solution to my dilemma. Espaliering (literally meaning shoulder or support) is an old French gardening technique for training and pruning trees and shrubs on trellises or wires. Not only is an espaliered tree lovely to behold, it’s a great way of getting maximum yield out of a limited space. The following spring we put in two trees along the back of the vegetable garden supported by wires, each grafted with two different kinds of pears. So, altogether, in the space about the size of a hall closet, I have a small orchard that usually yields a fall crop of Anjou, Asian, and Bartlett pears.
Until last year, at least. The trees are still beautiful, though, with or without fruit, adding structural interest to the side of our otherwise mundane red stable. There’s something innately satisfying about training the branches and pruning the leaves — and creating some sense of order out of nature’s wild and unpredictable ways. Consider planting a couple against your garage or along a fence and you’ll be rewarded in many ways. If not always in actual pears.
Things to do in the garden now
• Deadhead, deadhead, deadhead! There’s one great growth spurt left in many corners of your garden. Geraniums, buddelias, dahlias, roses, and shasta daisies, just to name a few, will keep on blooming if you stay on top of deadheading spent flowers.
• Harvest and freeze your tender herbs. Take a moment to cut one third off your mint, basil, parsley, cilantro plants at a cool time of the day so the leaves don’t wilt, paint them lightly all over with vegetable oil, and store them in zip-lock bags in the freezer. They may discolor a little over time, but they’ll keep their shape and taste fresh as ever when you unthaw and use them this winter.
• Buy your bulbs now! The most interesting tulips go fast, so make sure you have what want on hand when you’re ready to plant later in the fall. I’ve been buying White Flower Farm’s Pastel Stretch Mix for the last couple of years with a lot of success. The selection is made up of 50 bulbs — each a different beautiful long-stemmed Dutch hybrid — with bloom times that stretch from mid-April right through May.
• Pay a visit to some of the RI region’s grand old gardens. Time flies so quickly, and before you know it the great cottages and historic sites in our area will be closing for the season. Chesterwood, The Mount, Naumkeag, Clermont, and Olana, among others, all have beautiful period gardens that are worth a visit — and revist. — Liza Gyllenhaal