Garden design with apples: 7 top tips for choosing the right apple tree for our garden
We are increasingly being asked to include a small area for growing fruit and vegetables in the gardens we design for our customers. This is wonderful as far as we are concerned as few things beat the satisfaction of picking the first home-grown tomato or lifting the first crop of delicious new potatoes. We also try to always include a tree in our customers' gardens, so what could be better than combining this with the desire to grow our own by making our new tree one that will produce an edible crop?
Ask people to describe an archetypal English garden and we reckon there is a fair chance that many would mention an apple tree or two. Laden with beautifully coloured and delicious fruit there are few more attractive and evocative sights. It would be wonderful if every garden had an apple tree, so here is Tythorne Garden Design's top 7 garden design tips for growing apples in our gardens:
1. Choose apple trees carefully
As with any tree, it is important to choose an apple tree in terms of the size to which it will ultimately grow. Taste, resistance to disease, and fruiting period are obviously all also hugely important, but none of these will count for much if the tree becomes too large for our space.
Most tree labels should carry size information, but if in doubt we should do some research online to satisfy ourselves that we are choosing the right apple for our garden. Apple trees tend to be grown on root-stock to limit their size, and dwarf varieties are available if space really is an issue.
2. One, two, three or even more?
If we are planning to create our own mini orchard then we can have several fruit trees. If not, we shouldn't feel pressured into giving up too much of our precious space by planting more than one tree purely for pollination.
Yes, fruit trees rely on pollination to produce fruit, but there are lots of self-fertile varieties available so we don’t necessarily have to have more than one tree. In any case, there are often other fruit trees in the local area (particularly in more rural areas) so cross-pollination tends to occur perfectly well with the help of our local bees.
Having said this, if we are in a position to plant more than one apple tree we can extend the fruiting season by selecting varieties that will ripen at different times. Some will be perfect at the start of autumn, whilst others will keep until much later in the year.
3. Cookers, eaters or drinkers?
It may sound obvious, but what do we actually want to do with the fruit we are planning to grow? Cooking apples (such as Bramley’s Seedling) are great for pies and crumbles, but are generally too sour to eat raw. ‘Eaters’ (such as James Grieve) are great fresh from the tree, but not all will store well for later use. For cider making, we really need to be looking at some special varieties with extra tannin levels to give more bitterness (look for examples such as Foxwhelp or Dabinett).
These are important considerations, but within each category of apple tree there are usually a few options to suit most garden sizes.
4. Where to plant our new apple tree?
In an ideal world, apple trees prefer open, well-drained and sunny sites. They also like protection from the worst of the prevailing winds. In reality, however, most locations will be OK, providing they aren't in a known frost pocket, very wet or extremely heavy clay soils.
On a practical level, we need to consider the impact the position of our new tree will have on the rest of our garden. If, for example, we plant it in the middle of a lawn we will need to remember that mowing the grass around it might become tricky. If, on the other hand, we plant our new tree in a mixed-planting border we have to think about how we will harvest the fruit without damaging our plants.
As ever, every garden and every situation is different, but it is important to think carefully before we plant.
5. Apple trees make great focal points
All good gardens use focal points to lead the eye and create a sense of direction and purpose. Intended to catch the eye and make us smile, focal points are very much an individual thing in terms of taste. For some, a piece of contemporary sculpture makes a perfect focal point, whilst for others an ornate statue will fit the bill. Often a simple over-sized pot serves absolutely brilliantly.
We shouldn't, however, underestimate the role a living focal point can play. Apple trees are particularly suited to this task- providing height, interesting shape, and plenty of seasonal interest (see point 6). Up-lit by a well-positioned garden light they can also provide dramatic interest well into the evening.
6. Seasonal interest in abundance
In terms of garden design, apple trees keep on giving throughout the year. We have blossom in springtime (I personally much prefer it to cherry blossom), developing fruit in the summer, wonderful autumn foliage colour, and then beautiful and shapely bare stems in the winter. Few trees offer a better silhouette than an old twisted apple tree.
7. Short of space? Try an espalier
If our space is restricted, or if we simple fancy growing an apple tree against a wall or fence, then we might want to consider trying the espalier method. This utilises a process of carefully controlling the growth of the tree along a predefined structure (garden canes can work perfectly well). It is possible to start espalier trees from scratch, but young pre-trained specimens are widely available, and it can be a really interesting way of growing apples and adding additional structural interest to a garden.
Tythorne Garden Design provides professional fixed-fee garden design solutions for customers in Grantham, Stamford, Newark and surrounding areas. Let's see how we can help you to enjoy your garden more. Call us on 07900 224 239 or 01529 455 355.