Opinion: Now is a great time to grow food in a more sophisticated, well-planned manner in your own garden.Opinion: Now is a great time to grow food in a more sophisticated, well-planned manner in your own garden.Read MoreThe Vancouver Sun – RSS Feed

Opinion: Now is a great time to grow food in a more sophisticated, well-planned manner in your own garden.

Columnar apple trees are a great option for smaller gardens. Alexandra Pahl/Tourism Chilliwac

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Today, gardening in a smaller space is the reality most of us live with, but too often we rule out some wonderful edibles simply because we think there’s just not enough room.

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One of my favourite 2023 trends is the so-called “Tesla Effect,” which, simply stated, is all about innovation and creativity, or, making the impossible possible. This is especially true when it comes to growing fruit trees. The most common perception is that they grow too big and are all very high-maintenance.

That might have been true many years ago, but now higher density planting in a deliberate fashion is the only way fruit-growers can be profitable. The same is true for our home gardens.

Fence lines, south- and west-facing walls, and trellises are the new best friends for home-gardeners wanting to grow their own fresh fruit. I love it when experienced fruit-tree-growers aren’t really overly concerned about the shape of their young trees. When they prune new stock back to within two to three feet above the graft to encourage lots of supple new growth, which they then train in an espaliered form, the trees will grow in exactly the fashion they’re meant to; the growers are in control, not the tree.

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Property lines, especially those with fences, are perhaps the best location to grow fruits. If it isn’t your fence, be sure to plant a foot or so into your property, but it’s the ideal location for traditionally grown espaliered trees.

Issai kiwis (self-fertile) can be trained to create privacy and produce a lot of fruit too! Erin Minter

Whether they’re apples, pears, plums or Asian pears, most espaliered fruit trees will have six grafts on them with three different varieties for good cross pollination. They’re relatively easy to grow and look very impressive either when creating the fence line themselves or growing against an existing fence. They’re especially attractive when they flower in the spring. It’s nice to watch the fruits mature, and colour-up before harvest time in late summer. Once established, they will provide you with a good quantity of fruit.

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There is also a wide choice of multi-grafted fruit trees available now. They can have up to five or six different varieties and are meant to be grown like a traditional tree, but I love to see them espaliered as well, in a good sunny location.

The only thing to watch is the levels of vigour in these trees. Some varieties are very fast-growing and robust, so you need to prune them back hard to allow the less aggressive varieties time to develop. These “combos” are quite a novelty. As each variety matures and reaches its peak, you’re able to harvest fruit over a much longer period, so it adds a bit of fun too.

Back in the ‘80s the so-called colonnade apples originated in the Okanagan but were then developed further in Europe as columnar-growing apple trees. They were quite unique, growing only three-to-four metres tall and, with proper care, staying about one metre wide. Often referred to as “stick” apples, the original varieties were Golden Sentinel and Scarlet Sentinel. Considering they were totally new varieties, they were actually quite tasty and very productive. Today we also have North Pole, a large, early red, Urban Blushing Delight, a red blushed-yellow, and Urban Tasty Red, a flavourful medium-size red apple.

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The beauty of these colonnades is their attractive tall, narrow, space-saving form. In some small spaces they just might be an ideal way to enjoy both the beauty and the quality of your own fruit trees.

Other than blueberries, it seems there are fewer small fruits grown in today’s home gardens. From the many colours, including red, black, pink and white, of edible fruiting currants, to gooseberries, Josta berries, tayberries and the newer Haskap berries, I think this is a big “miss” in our gardens. They will all grow about one-metre-wide-and-tall so do take a bit of space, but they won’t take over.

Wisley Gardens demonstrates how espalier can be done with a variety of fruits, including grapes and cherries. jpg

Many years ago, at Wisley Gardens in England, I saw numerous small fruits that were showcased growing very efficiently on well-secured narrow, two-metre-tall trellises. When in flower, as well as when loaded with fruit, they looked quite stunning, and in fact, trained in this manner they were attractive all year round while taking up minimal space.

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Raspberries were also grown on these trellises and what a treat, especially the everbearing varieties, to be enjoyed all summer. Thornless blackberries, even some of the huge ones like Prime Ark and Columbia Giant, can be grown in the same way, as can boysenberries, grapes and small-fruited kiwis.

In the reality of small-space growing, we do need to be far more innovative in how and where we grow our own fruits, but we need to be adding beauty to our gardens at the same time. Europeans have been doing this for years, and their creative ways of growing food are finally becoming a part of our home outdoor décor.

There are so many ways to grow food in a more sophisticated, well-planned manner. Now is a great time to begin that process in your own garden.

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