Chilean guava

Short version:

This evergreen, hardy to -100C, bush that can grow to around 1.5m tall by 1m wide in almost any soil conditions will produce fragrant flowers and sweet aromatic berries that are unavailable in the shops.

The ugni molinae, also called strawberry myrtle, is one of my favourite plants. I’ve never ever seen these yummy little berries sold in the supermarkets. This means that the only way to get them is to grow your own. I’ve read that they used to be grown in Cornwall when they were a favourite of Queen Victoria. I’m not sure where this resurgence of this plant has come from but I’m grateful.

How to grow

As far as I know this can only be bought as a plant. I haven’t seen any seeds and I don’t know how successful seeds would be. I bought mine online from Suttons in the James Wong collection. It was called ‘ka-pow’ (that made me cringe a little). This isn’t an easy one to make cuttings from in my experience, then again this may be because I’m lacking in experience. I’ve only had about 10% success rate with cuttings.

This is a perennial evergreen bush that prefers sun but will handle some light shade. I wasn’t quite sure how it would handle the winter, especially as a young plant so I kept it in a pot for the first 2 years and brought it indoor for 2 winters. It is supposed to be hardy down to around -100C. It can grow to around 1.5m tall and a 1m wide within 10 years so I didn’t think it would be happy in a little pot for long. Besides my little one loves the fruit so much I thought it deserved a spot in the raised beds. It was absolutely fine in the garden, in a spot with a bit of light shade, over last winter and kept its leaves throughout. A couple of the leaves went bright red which added a splash of colour in the dullness of January.

Advice seems to be that any soil, at any pH, is fine as long as it is moist but well drained.

When it arrived in the summer it was a little thing (sold as 9cm) and it wasn’t until it had been with us a year that it grew around 20 lovely smelling flowers. Unfortunately, it didn’t set any fruit. In the second summer with us it had plenty of flowers and some lovely fruit.

Now it has been with us for almost 3 years it is around 1m tall and about 50cm wide. It has masses of flowers just opening so we’re hoping for a good year.

How to harvest

You have to wait as long as your patience holds up. The’ berries go a lovely appealing pink and they smell delicious, but you must wait till they turn a deep red. They’ll be slightly soft to the touch. So far, we’ve only had about 20 berries ripen over the course of a few weeks in October (not bad for a 2 year old plant). The Sutton’s website says August to September, but upon further internet research, it seems that October may be around right. I’ll wait to see when they ripen this year before I pass verdict. It’s hard to get a photo of clusters of ripe berries because they’re a bit too yummy. Once they’re ripe someone (mostly the little monkey) tends to go for it. For us, they’re like little 1cm diameter sweets that we just pick and eat straight off the bush.

How they taste

I find this one really hard to describe. The flowers smell like floral candy floss. The berries taste how they smell. They’re like an alpine strawberry mixed with candy floss and with something aromatic that is hard to place. I think the closest I can think of is possibly clove. The first time you try, the berry tastes stronger than you expect. That’s why we treat them a bit like sweets and eat them one at a time. With the strong taste and unplaceable aromatic I thought the little one wouldn’t be a fan. Boy was I wrong. She absolutely adores them, which is why I shall continue trying to propagate.

Fruit trees

Short version:

The winter is a great time to plant perennial cheaper ‘bare root’ fruit trees. Planting 2 of each type of fruit can help increase yields. With the new hardier and more disease resistant varieties out there, we are no longer restricted to the usual apple, pear, cherry and plum trees that the generations before us were. There are now figs, grapes, peaches and mulberries that can be grown outdoors. For the adventurous there are also kiwi, passion fruit and certain types of guavas. Also don’t forget the berry bushes, like blueberry and raspberry, which also come much cheaper as bare root. 

When the trees are dormant, they are sold more cheaply as bare root. This means that storing and transport is cheaper so winter is a great time to populate the garden with fruit trees. Fruit trees are perennial. You can plant them once and keep harvesting off them during their lifespan. Keep in mind though, that they can take several years to begin bearing fruit. These are for the long game.

Most fruit trees suitable for the garden starts with a dwarfing root stock. This is basically the lower half of the tree – the roots and the trunk. This rootstock determines the eventual height of the tree, which will be somewhere between 1m to 4m depending on how dwarfing the rootstock is. The rootstock may also provide better disease resistance, hardiness or sturdiness.

This is where the branch has been grafted on. When I received the tree (via post) the graft had come away. Luckily after I tied it back together the branch survived.

Another reason for a rootstock is that you can’t grow a fruit variety from seed. For example, all Granny Smith apple trees are clones of the original Granny Smith. Basically, someone somewhere discovered or bred this variety with a taste they like. They then named it (and probably patented it too). From then onwards if you want to have a tree that grows apples that taste like Granny Smiths you get a branch from a Granny Smith and graft it onto your rootstock. It probably won’t be the original tree but a clone of the original, which is basically the same thing. You can read more about why seeds don’t always produce plants that are the same variety as the parents in ‘Pollination, fertilisation and variation

And…. Another fab thing about grafting is that you get fruit sooner as you are not growing from seed. And… wouldn’t you know there’s even more to love. One of the great things about grafting fruit trees is that you can get a single tree with more than one variety on it.

I absolutely love my fruit trees. I have an apple, a pear and a cherry tree. Each one of these have 5 varieties grafted onto them. Yup! That’s not a typo. Each tree has 5 varieties. This may not turn out to be such a great thing in the long run, but I love the novelty of it. I was amazed to find these trees, and then even more amazed to find that they have survived and have grown well. Even more important than the novelty of more than one variety on a fruit tree, is that with fruit, a pollination partner is important. Some trees won’t pollinate themselves. This also includes 2 different trees of the same variety as they will be clones. You’ll have some varieties (self-sterile) that won’t grow any fruit if there isn’t another tree of the same species but of different variety nearby. I.e. it has to be the same type (apple with apple, pear with pear) of fruit, but cannot be the same variety. There is then an added complication of apple trees that open their flowers at different times. This means that there are specific pollination partners within pollination groups. There are some varieties that are self fertile (they can pollinate themselves), but these will bear more fruit when there is a pollination partner.

Apples and pears don’t tend to have problems, especially in high population, suburban areas, as often there are other people in the local area with an apple or pear. If you do find a tree with a couple of varieties grafted onto the same trunk, they are often pollination partners.

I didn’t buy these as bare root though. I was doing up the garden in the early summer and was far too impatient. The first summer in the garden there was no fruit as expected as they had only been in there about 2 months or so. The second year (only really 14/15months) the apple had a couple of fruit that dropped before they were ripe, the pear produced 2 varieties and the cherry produced 3 varieties. The following year we managed to get 4 varieties of apple, 2 varieties of pear (though weirdly, it was 2 different varieties to the previous year) and 3 varieties of cherry (I’m not sure if it was the same 3 varieties as the previous year). With different varieties you need to be careful to ensure via pruning that one variety doesn’t become too dominant. Another drawback of the many varieties on one tree is that if a tree dies, then you are losing all of your different varieties.

This is where I bought these trees:

Because it is unusual to have that many varieties on one tree there are more limited options for buying. These are pot grown and according to the website, no other nurseries do that many varieties so your only choice is the pot grown. These ones are also on very dwarfing rootstock and so the trees are only expected to grow to 6-8ft.

If you’d rather not have the expense of pot grown, you can still get a bare rooted twin tree. Here is a website, but I’ve not bought any fruit trees from here. These ones here are on less dwarfing rootstock:

The biggest problem with city gardens and fruit trees is the lack of space. You can do things like fan train, espalier or just tie and prune to ensure that your tree doesn’t take up too much of your garden. You can use a tree to make a living fence or screen.

The following photos were taken on a visit to The Lost Gardens of Heligan:

Unfortunately we don’t have space for a tunnel like this. Instead we have:

In addition to the common English garden varieties, there are now more options. There are more hardy and disease resistant varieties that can now be grown. It is not necessary to have a green house as there are hardy varieties of things like figs, grapes, kiwis, passionfruit, and mulberries that grow in our garden. We don’t have a peach or medlar tree but I have heard that these are possible too. When you select a tree make sure you check details on how they taste, pollination partners, how hardy it is and if that variety is known to fruit in your climate. It’s a long list but there’s no point growing a fruit tree that survives the winter if the fruit doesn’t ripen in your climes, or if the fruit does ripen but tastes pants. Slightly less important, but still worth considering, is what is the final height of the tree and also how long it takes before it begins to produce fruit.

There are also plenty of berry bushes that do brilliantly in the UK. Our blueberries, raspberries, Chilean guava, blackberries, gooseberries and physallis seem to thrive. I’ve also seen goji berries at my parents and blackcurrants in some random nearby garden doing brilliantly.