Fruit for thought

Regardless of the size of your garden, courtyard or balcony, it’s possible to produce home-grown fruit.

Fruit trees come in a range of sizes: full-size (four metres or larger), dwarf (two to three metres tall), columnar (60 centimetres wide and up to four metres tall) and miniature (one-and-a-half metres tall).

Apples and pears need a cool winter, but there are still plenty of options for people living in warmer climates – look for dwarf peach, papaya, mulberry, macadamia, persimmon, almond or mango trees. Consider dwarf quinces, apples or blueberries for balconies and small gardens. Mail-order nurseries stock a large selection of fruit trees.

If you only have room for one full-size tree, plant two varieties 15cm apart in the same hole. This is particularly effective when combining apples, pears or plums that need a cross pollinator, but it can also be done with trees of different species. Prune overlapping branches to reap more fruit over a longer period.

Alternatively, you can buy trees grafted with two or more varieties of fruit, whether it’s a mix of citrus, stone fruit, apples or pears. Just remember to mark branches so you don’t accidentally prune off a variety.

 

 

 

 

Pruning is key, says Craig Castree, a Victorian-based horticulturalist and the author of Edible Gardens. “If you can’t reach the fruit when you’re standing with your feet flat on the ground, trees become too hard to manage,” he says. “Trim vertical growth to encourage horizontal growth, which produces more fruit and will be easier to pick.”

He also says: “No net equals no fruit.” So, protect your crop from local pests such as birds and possums.

Strategic pruning can reduce the space needed without a huge loss of fruit, from trees trained in neat lines or fan shapes (espaliered), to column-shaped cordons (trained to grow as a single stem). You can even buy stepover apple plants that act as productive bed edging and grow to a height of about 50 centimetres.

If you’re not sure about your pruning skills, try Fleming’s Ballerina range of columnar apple trees, which are bred to stay in shape.

Miniatures are perfect for growing in pots and dwarf sizes suit larger tubs. Meyer lemons, cumquats and mandarins are best suited to tubs. Buy wheels for your tubs so you can move them.

Some specialist suppliers graft trees to order. Choose from heritage varieties not widely available, or have a favourite fruit tree cloned onto dwarf rootstock.

Caring for container trees

  • Keep tubs in a sheltered, sunny position
  • Apply a slow-release fertiliser every six months
  • Keep soil moist at all times
  • Pick off pest insects
  • Trim the branches and roots every two years and change the potting mix to keep plants healthy
  • Instead of tubs, try bonsai bags, which can be used to temporarily hold fruit trees if you’re moving house
  • Apples and pears need different pruning to stone fruit; check before chopping.

words Jane Canaway

 

Winter Flavour

It’s hard to imagine life without oranges and lemons. A staple of cuisines from Spain to China, citrus is probably our most versatile fruit family. Best of all, they come into season now, when many others have ended. There are about seven species of native limes, plus cultivars, but sadly they are still rare in shops – which is ironic because new research suggests all modern varieties can be traced back to Australasian species from 30 million years ago. However, you will find new-season lemons, limes, satsumas – a lunchbox favourite – and navel oranges, taking over from summer’s Valencias.

You might even find tangelos, citrons, yuzu, Buddha’s hand or bergamot; there are hundreds of types and they’re all cousins. They’re also good for you, providing fibre, lots of vitamin C, B vitamins (including folate), antioxidants and trace minerals.

Few Greek dishes are complete without lemon, and it’s a healthy addition: squeeze it on salads, stir fries, risottos, roast potatoes, chicken, fish, water, tea – and an occasional gin and tonic. High levels of citric acid mean lemon is a good meat tenderiser and it can be used as a cleaning aid. It’s even supposed to fade sunspots. To preserve a glut, you can freeze juice in ice trays, make cordial and curd, or preserve lemons in salt.

Limes can be substituted for a change; generally they are more acidic. The sweetest citrus are oranges, which work well in cakes, desserts and salads. Try oranges with raw fennel for a summery crunch in winter. Or create the colourful Sicilian orange salad, using a range of sliced citrus dressed with olives, red onion and olive oil. Swap tinned fruit for fresh citrus to make a refreshingly different trifle; you can even make the jelly from scratch using fresh juice, and decorate with shavings of orange-flavoured chocolate.

Grapefruit adds flavour to a salad too – it is particularly tasty with avocado, rocket and prawns, or in a Vietnamese-style slaw with chicken or crab.

QUICK CURD

Make an easy lemon curd by whisking 2 eggs, 2 egg yolks, 175g caster sugar, 80g butter and 2 lemons (zest & juice). Stir continuously over low heat until thickened. Store in an airtight jar in the fridge.

words Jane Canaway illustrations Clementine/The Illustration Room

 

Cooking tip: Add lemon juice before scrambling eggs to retain their golden colour.

Orchid excellence

 

 

 

 

 

Orchids love the Australian climate so much that more than 800 orchid species, most of them unique to our shores, grow in all kinds of locations all over Australia.

Queensland’s floral emblem, the delightfully named Dendrobium bigibbum, or Cooktown orchid, is well known for its striking shades of purple. The supertough Sydney rock orchid, endrobium speciosum, produces creamy yellow flower spikes in Spring and is loved by gardeners.

More familiar to gardeners in the southern states of Australia are the showy, intricately patterned Cymbidiums, the moth orchid (Phalaenopsis) with its broad-winged petals that vary from white to deep purple and the wildly coloured Singapore orchid, once a buttonhole favourite.

Despite our climate and our huge variety of native plants, the bulk of commercially grown plants sold in Australia originate from southern China, South-East Asia and the Indian subcontinent.

Most cultivated orchids are epiphytes, which grow on trees in the tropics or sub-tropics. They prefer dappled light, high humidity, good airflow and limited nutrients. Rock orchids like similar conditions.

Terrestrial orchids (those growing in the ground) outnumber their tree-loving cousins by three to one but are difficult to cultivate. The exceptions are varieties of greenhood (Pterostylis) and onion (Microtis unifolia) orchids, which grow readily in pots or under a tree. Look for them in specialist nurseries.

Kerrie’s Blooms Bring Smiles at Willandra

Australian Unity’s Kerrie Smiles is leading her own orchid revolution.

Kerrie, the Assistant Manager at Willandra Retirement Community in Cromer in New South Wales, is getting many of the residents involved in her hobby.

“I remember being a kid and having a lady’s slipper orchid (Paphiopedilum) and I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen,” Kerrie says.

“They are such good value; better than cut flowers. And I love the people I have met through collecting and growing them.”

Kerrie has encouraged so many residents to grow the plants she has been able to host orchid shows at Willandra. She has also created a special garden where former residents’ orchids continue to bloom in their memory.

After a busy Spring, repotting bigger Cymbidiums and removing old rhizomes, Kerrie says Summer is about maintenance.

“I make up a diluted molasses mix and spray every two weeks. It keeps the bugs off and gives the leaves a sheen. I mix two tablespoons of molasses in one litre of water, using warm water to make sure it dissolves.”

Checking Summer light is also important; the sun is higher and shade will fall differently.

Top tips for healthy plants

  • Good drainage is essential; use orchid mix, which comprises large chunks of bark
  • Orchids like warm and humid environments, not hot and dry, or cold and wet
  • Direct Summer sun can cause sunburn
  • Know your orchid: Moth orchids prefer hot weather and low light; Cymbidiums don’t like temperatures over 25 degrees C but need more light; Dendrobiums like warm days and cool nights.

words Jane Canaway

photography Kerrie Smiles