Category Archives: Fruit & fruit propagation

Good things … what we did in our holidays

db718657bf0ba61b3226dc2eda4595dcI had Nick here for three weeks at Christmas – no, he didn’t create that amazing effect you can see above, but he made a start on our own espalier divisions in the garden.

WordPress seems to have deprived me of the possibility of setting up a link to something on my own blog, but if you want to see where the new espaliers will be, see the Garden Plan in the index above.

Following on from the example of blogging others, I want to give Nick a little epithet. Words fail me. ‘The Handyman’? Mostly not … although he was at Christmas … until he fell through the living room ceiling. Where have I read that story before?


IMG_8220Bon viveur seems to sum him up (affectionately BV). You will be continually referred back to this point in case you lose the plot during the next year.

Anyway, we were quite busy outside at Christmas because the weather was superb – now we have the rain and miserable (but mild) conditions that half the world is experiencing. Snow – and a spurt of garden dreaming – is forecast for later in the week.

Have you read the Roman de la Rose? This is a medieval allegorical poem of courtly love. It caused a real stink in its time. Filthy letters, back and forth, between the academics of Europe – it was considered by many to be outrageous. Read C.S. Lewis’ Allegory of Love if you want to know more. But be prepared for some heavy academic stuff. It’s not really about swooning around in a rose-scented garden.

I am drawn to the Roman de la Rose on many levels: I studied medieval history and literature; I am a gardener; and I live in a sixteenth century house (ok, not medieval, but I hope you are not quibbling?). Lastly, and not least, I love roses. The garden influence is the most important.

The setting for the poem is a walled garden (here we go with my ‘walled’ Hornbeam Gardens, etc.). Most important of all (for my current post) is that the allegory of the walled garden and rose includes the idea that old age is ‘beyond the walls’. One remains forever young within. I’m really busy building those walls!


If you look down from above, the walled theme is beginning to emerge.


And the hornbeams are becoming more visible


The latest ‘walls’ take the form of our new espalier supports, begun by the BV over Christmas. On a more practical level, growing fruit in an espalier form allows the gardener more plants in a comparatively small area.


The walnut grass circle is now framed by a prospective entrance between pear espaliers. We have the plants … and now the supports!


You can look beyond the small hornbeams at the top of the picture and see the second line of espaliers.

I’ve been busily grafting fruit trees, as a member of the Croqueurs de Pommes, since I arrived here in 2012. Last year my 3 ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’ were planted out and languished through lack of support. I had already hatched the espalier plan, and they were part of it (as are another 10 or so pears/apples that I’ve grafted since 2012).


This Christmas the BV came along and rescued them. I have absolutely no idea if the whole scheme will work. And will probably be leaving here by the time I see it in all its glory. But he’s a nice chap, and quite fond of dreaming himself …


This is the support for the Cox’s Orange Pippins going up. And you can see the hornbeam hedges more clearly here.


Looking along the main, long, line of espaliers that divide the very cultivated garden – where we are forever young! – from the wilderness

Now I lie in bed wondering how I am going to train them all. I was quite sure that I liked the lines of a tree that has been espaliered horizontally (the most prevalent style). This is first in the diagram below. But … it’s like a new dress. (More likely in my case, a new plant.) The choice is very wide and each option much too tempting.




I kind of like the Belgian lattice – possibly more interesting in leaf? Definitely more complicated and long-winded to train

The idea is that my ‘wilderness’ (into which I intend to plant many trees and shrubs and to grow woodland/moisture-loving plants … if there’s time) will be kept at bay by a glorious free-standing espalier of blossom.


I will remain forever young behind this appealing barrier … ha!

The other thing that the BV did over Christmas was to carry on with his wonderful blue pergola. Fair play to him that he was game enough to get out there and get on with it. For, as we all know, Christmas is the natural season (with summer solstice) for bon viveurs the world over.


The steps are those down from the Supper Terrace to the Vine Garden. Again, see my (scrappy) new garden plan on the main menu.

My vines were languishing. They dream of the day when this marvellous new support is, well, supporting them.


My camera seems to have taken the low light levels and accentuated the blues here. Or, more probably, the photographer still has things to learn

Can you see that he has painted it in two different blues? The surfaces below each post are a darker blue to emphasise light and shadow.

No, I knew you wouldn’t see it. Well you will just have to visit and see the glorious effect for yourself.

There is more to come, but at least we finally – this all started in May – have the four main beams out of the ground. It will eventually be a kind of hexagon. And I will be so proud of the BV.

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Even this year in its unfinished state it looked rather lovely.   In May 2015 Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’ and some superb yellow irises complemented the blue perfectly.


I should, perhaps, finish with a rose, in view of my thoughts about the Roman de la Rose? My favourite, Fantin Latour.

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The apple crunchers


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The river Saône at Monthureux-sur-Saône. Just a few miles upstream it becomes  navigable and begins to morph into one of the grandest in France, flowing eventually into the Rhône. Very peaceful on a Sunday morning, but it’s all go behind the scenes. This is the town that hosts the annual bourse aux greffons for the Croqueurs de Pommes des Trois Provinces on the first Sunday of February each year.

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When someone first told me about the Croqueurs, I thought they were teasing (the pulling of legs is not a pursuit reserved to the English). But it’s official, there really is a national group calling itself the ‘apple crunchers’. They don’t just crunch apples, they are also partial to pears, plums, peaches – in fact any heritage cultivar of any fruit, including nuts.

The heritage fruit trail in France leads you back through the centuries to become acquainted with characters better known in circumstances far from the fruit bowl or the kitchen. For example, what we call ‘greengage’ in English is actually an old French variety called ‘Reine Claude Verte’, named for the wife of Francis I. Anne Boleyn served in Claude’s retinue before returning to her infamous fate, and is believed to have translated for Claude whenever English visitors were presented.

I actually succeeded in grafting ‘Reine Claude Verte’ and her plummier sister, ‘Reine Claude Violette’ last year. Quite a triumph for me. Grafting is really a skill I should leave to my more dexterous better half. He’s good at that kind of thing, I’m not. But I caught the bug at this same February bourse aux greffons in 2013.

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I had already noted how remarkably expensive fruit trees were in France and I wanted quite a few. I wandered into the bourse that February day in 2013 actually imagining that I might buy (cheap) young trees (my French was much worse then).

I came out a member, and with a new friend in our village who went on to show me the practical ropes. That year I successfully grafted three ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’ and one cherry ‘Napoleon’, with Pierre’s help. (I’m the only one around here that calls him Pierre, everyone else knows him as Albert … sad to think that of his two first names he was never allowed to choose the one he himself preferred … until he met me.)

By 2015 I was a little more confident at the bourse. I had – as is ‘correct’ (the French love that word) – ordered my rootstocks in advance and made a careful note of the kind of scions (the bit that’s grafted onto the rootstocks) I wanted.

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My rootstocks waiting for me at home

But it’s still a tricky, serious business choosing your scions, given that the choice is so wide at the bourse – there’s a real sense of information overload, unless you have done your homework regularly throughout the year. And the one thing I still haven’t learned is to get there before 10.30 am – all the scions of the best (locally special) cultivars are gone by that time, pinched by early-bird Croqueurs with more passion than I.Croqueurs 093

Since I wanted to learn more about the fruit cultivars of Lorraine (the region where I live) I also purchased the right volume in the series the Croqueurs publish about fruit cultivars throughout France. It was a bit disappointing to realise that only one of the cultivars I’ve chosen over the last three years – ‘Saint-Georges’ – is a variety typically grown in Lorraine. Shaming also, to think it was only chosen on a whim, rather than lovingly selected (as I’m sure everyone else does) for its exceptional cider-making prowess or excellence in the tarte aux pommes. Worse still – in my first year I was lured into trying to graft three English apples! But, as I’ve said, I was still a bit bewildered by the notion of the Croqueurs at that stage and hadn’t quite grasped the right end of the stick.

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By the time I arrived home again last Sunday, I was clutching scions for six apples (‘Gravenstein’, ‘Caville Blanc d’Hiver’, ‘Reinette Gris Comtoise, ‘St-Georges’, ‘Blenheim’, ‘Transparente de Croncels), two pears (Marguerite Marillat’, ‘Beurre Hardy’), four plums (‘Mirabelle de Nancy’, ‘Mirabelle de Trois Provinces’, ‘Coco Jaune’, ‘Bejonniere’) and two more cherries (‘Biggareau Burlat’, ‘Guine d’Annonay’). These little twigs lying on my kitchen don’t look much, but I’ve high hopes – and, let’s face it, they have such enticing names.

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And I’d had some good advice at the bourse. The first year I had a 100% ‘take’ on only four trees – the scions still looked nice and juicey by the time I introduced them to the rootstocks around 21 March (as long as the sap is rising it’s ok to get on with the job). The second year was not so hot. I think I chose about 14 scions and ended up with only 7 trees (still not bad when you think that membership of the society costs only 25€ per year, the rootstocks – reusable, if the initial graft fails – cost 1.50€, and the scions are free). I am sure, however, that a proper Croqueur would find this an embarrassing success rate.

I had been keeping the scions in the cellar in the 5-6 weeks following the bourse, plunged in damp potting compost. The first year I covered the tops with a plastic bag, but last year I was lazier. One of the Croqueurs told me on Sunday that the best thing was to wrap the scions in a damp cloth and then to put them in the coldest part of the fridge until the March graft. Done! Hopefully my scions will be plumper and less dry this year.

I’m grafting using the most basic carpentry (and no great skill!). All the trees are worked with the whip and tongue graft you can find on the link, courtesy of Cornell College of Agriculture & Life Sciences in the States.

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And here’s one I did (unsuccessfully) earlier. The rootstock is a St Julien (for plums, peaches or nectarines). It’s reusable (theoretically), but my amateurish attempt has left it in rather a mess. ‘Waste not, want not’ is the motto in this house, so I’ll still be using it. That doesn’t stop me being slightly worried about the eventual shape of the tree! At least it’s better than practising on dead bits of willow twig, as we used to do when I was first taught grafting.



This time – success! A ‘Reine des Reinettes’ apple grafted onto M109 rootstock. The first picture with the rubber tie (rather decayed after binding the graft since last March).

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And here, bandage removed – the patient lives! I’m actually quite proud of this one, bearing in mind that I would not have said my fingers work nimbly enough for this kind of work. (The bulge below the graft is not my responsibility … or is it?)

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To date I have succeeded with these apples: ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin, ‘Reine de Reinettes’, ‘Caville Rouge d’Hiver’ and ‘Transparente Blanche’ – this last a July ripening cultivar that keeps an incredibly short period, but is just luscious and juicy as a dessert apple. Pears are (kind of predictably): ‘William’s Bon Chrétien’ and ‘Doyenne du Comice’. The sole cherry and the two plums have already been mentioned.

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Male-dominated; women welcome

And do you know – I’ve really enjoyed it. I’m learning a new horticultural skill and something about France’s culture that might otherwise have passed me by. It’s a bit like that packet of seed that is so precious you are afraid to sow it: it isn’t going to germinate in the packet, is it? The only way you learn is by failing.

The only problem is that it could become a bit of an addiction.

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