Thursday, 15 September 2011

Try a taste of the Exotic


The Scottish climate is very favourable for growing a wide range of both soft and top fruit but this range can be extended if we have the benefit of a south facing wall in a sheltered location. We all love a challenge, and trying to get a crop from a plant everybody knows needs a warm sunny climate really tests your gardening skills. We have heard so much about climate change and global warming that we begin to believe that the weather might just warm up and we can then contemplate growing those plants usually confined to the south of the country.
A few years ago I started trying out a range of different grapes on my allotment to see if our climate has now warmed up sufficiently to find a good cropping grape. The allotment plot has great soil, a south facing slope and excellent drainage. I have cultivated it quite deeply over the years and added plenty of manure and compost. What could possibly go wrong.
All the grapes grew vigorously, though training and pruning kept them under control, but where are all the grapes. Maybe I have not yet found the right variety, though more likely this global warming is just a political myth, or it has not yet reached Scotland. The climate has certainly changed. It is more predictable than ever and extremes seem to be normal. We did get a heatwave a few years ago but what about this year. It will be remembered for the long cold severe winter followed by severe spring gales, thunder storms and a cool wet summer with very little sun.
However, we shall continue to experiment with the more exotic fruits just in case climate change brings in a wee bit warmer weather once in a while. Last year I got over forty figs and a dozen peaches. That made all the work and effort well worthwhile.
I can take advantage of warm south facing walls and fences around our house which sits on a south facing slope, but unfortunately we do not have shelter being exposed to the prevailing winds.


My first range of grape varieties were just not suited for growing this far north, but I am now trying out one called Solaris recommended for more northerly locations. This time it has the benefit of a south facing fence. The ornamental variety Brant grows and fruits extremely well on my south facing house wall. It produces about 100 small bunches of black sweet juicy grapes in early September. It is the success of this one that makes me feel they will work if I can get the right variety.


I first tasted a Scottish grown fig about forty years ago. A farmer friend near Montrose grew them in his garden and was delighted to be able to offer me these exotic fruits. I had never tasted a fully ripe fresh fig just picked from the bush. It was absolutely delicious, so I have had a fig tree in the garden ever since.
They are very easy to grow, and normally quite hardy though last winter put that to the test. They suffered a fair bit of die back in spring with a loss of most of the fruit buds. However growth soon resumed with great vigour, though this year I am down to a handful of fruits.
Brown Turkey is still the best variety and growth needs to be restricted by growing them in a slab lined pit about three feet square with plenty of brick rubble in the bottom for drainage. I train mine on a south facing wall to give them the warmth to ripen up the fruits. Watch them very carefully as they ripen as in our wetter climate botrytis can be a problem when you leave the fruit to ripen to its deep purple brown colour.


Another fruit that needs the warmth of a south facing fence or wall. My peach Peregrine is very hardy and growth was unaffected by last winter. In fact the long winter was a distinct advantage since flowers did not appear till quite late when danger of frosts had passed. However there was a distinct lack of pollinating insects so my sable brush was used daily to help pollination. The flowers did not look very strong and cool conditions did not help fertilisation, so one by one the flowers failed to set and fell off, apart from one. It will not take very long to bring in this year’s harvest.
However this will give me more time to concentrate on my other life as the artist as I am now enrolling for my autumn session of evening art classes.

Cape Gooseberry

This fruit from Peru is grown as an annual from seed and often with the protection of a glasshouse. Some people have had success in growing it as a perennial cutting it back to the crown in winter. Glasshouse space is often at a premium with grapes, tomatoes, and cucumbers so I grow mine in the shelter of a south facing fence. The soil is deep, rich and well drained so plants can grow quite vigorously. I let them branch as a wide bush so they do not need staking or pruning. The fruit may not ripen up till well into the autumn, but be patient as when the Chinese lanterns produce their orange berries the wait will have been well worth it. Make sure you get the type Physalis edulis as it has the biggest berries.

Goji berries

This new fruit grows in Tibet, China and Mongolia and is related to the potato. It is a vigorous bush growing up to eight feet tall and may fruit in its third year. The orange red fruit are very high in vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants. This has been used in their promotion as a superfood, but is largely unsubstantiated by scientific research. The ripe fruit must be harvested very carefully to avoid damage to the fruit which is then dried in the sun like a sultana.
My climbing bushes have not yet fruited, like so many others who are trying them, but one gardener did get a crop from them. Unfortunately it was not to his liking so the bush got dug out.
Maybe next year I will get the chance to put them to the test.

Kiwi fruit

This will only grow successfully outdoors in this area in a very sheltered warm position. They are quite vigorous and some varieties come as separate male and female plants, though there are now varieties such as Jenny that are self fertile. Keep growth under control by pruning similar to grapes.


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