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Growing fruit in small spaces

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Jim McColl Jim McColl | 17:12 UK time, Thursday, 31 March 2011

We probably have another month before the bare-root planting season for woody perennials ends, in this part of the country, therefore as demands grow to get other tasks completed I would give planting priority. In that regard, I have just planted a row of raspberry canes, the variety Glen Ample, just one of a number of superb cultivars bred at the Scottish Crop Research Institute which is situated on the north bank of the River Tay on the outskirts of Dundee.

The institute, colloquially referred to as Mylnefield or SCRI, is to be merged from April 1st, with the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute based in Aberdeen, a bit of political symbiosis perhaps? The new organisation will be known as the James Hutton Institute. We should wish them well for both have earned a fantastic reputation over the years.

cordon red currants

Upright cordon red currants

The other day, still re-arranging things in the new garden, I moved two young red currant bushes, trimming side shoots to 3cm, leaving only twin leaders because they will be trained as upright cordons. There is nothing unusual in that, I have been using this technique for some time now. In this era of smaller gardens, I often hear people say "we would love to grow some soft fruit but we don't have room". "Rubbish!" say I. Apart from the fact that you can grow a few strawberries in pots, growbags, raised beds or hanging baskets, you can also accommodate red and white currants and gooseberries as cordons and blackberries (which we call brambles) on a trellis or against a wall, instead of a rambling rose! Gooseberries can be readily adapted to grow in a fan shape. My point is, by training they may take up space in only two dimensions - width and height.

I mentioned raspberries earlier and I will grow them in the traditional fashion - one single row supported by a post and wire system. I could have chosen to plant groups of 5 canes in a circle in the middle of a border to be trained 'tepee-fashion' It works because of the pruning system - cut out fruited canes, tie in new ones in their place. Red and white currants, together with gooseberries produce their fruits on 2-3 year old spurs, just like apple trees and so they can be grown as cordons or fans. I tell you what; it is a lot easier to pick gooseberries from a fan-trained bush than a conventional one! Think about it, these forms, whether trained on walls or trellis work, can be useful to create productive divisions within a garden, just like step-over apples.

Loch Maree Blackberry

Loch Maree Blackberry

In our last house, the upright cordon red currants were planted against a 2m high north facing wall and fruited well every year.

I also made mention of brambles being used to furnish a trellis, can I suggest that you try Loch Maree (bred at SCRI). My photograph doesn't do it justice because the flowers are actually a delicate pink making it rather an attractive ornamental!

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