A peach-coloured haze of uncertainty

When I think about it, this whole orchard project may have come about as a result of a conversation with a lady named Celia…

Celia and I were out walking one day when we began chatting about our mutual passion for peaches and bemoaning how difficult it is to find a good one without going to France.  She told me of a large peach tree in the garden of her childhood from which she had picked and eaten delicious peaches.  A free-standing peach tree!  In England!  The idea was astonishing to me.  The notion of having desirable fruit of all types growing in my garden took hold and, well, the rest is history.

The thought of growing peaches in this way makes me swoon a little.  However, technically there are a number of challenges to be overcome:

Firstly, let’s not beat around the bush: Peach leaf curl.  It isn’t possible to grow peaches outside in this country without taking evasive action against this disease.  The options are either spraying several times each year with Bordeaux Mixture (which I don’t want to do because I’m intending to garden without the use of chemicals) or covering the leaves of the tree between December and May to keep them dry (some kind of polytunnel or similar cover).

But is this true?  The new variety Avalon Pride is “resistant” to peach leaf curl.  What does this mean?  That it doesn’t mind it?  That it will endure for longer before finally succumbing?  That it will need help for the first few years but after this it will be ok?  Resistant?  Resistant.  We all know what happens to frost-resistant pots…  Michael Phillips in his book The Holistic Orchard hints that it is possible to overcome the disease by growing strong, healthy trees and boosting their own ability to resist the disease by spraying them with organic remedies.  On the other hand, Mark Diacono writing in the Telegraph states “Don’t be tempted by ‘Avalon Pride’ – sold as offering good resistance to leaf curl, my 40 trees became riddled with it from year one and have never really recovered.”  I think my answer is to start with one or two trees and protect them while they are small.

The second issue is hardiness.  It is standard practice in this country to train peaches against a wall.  The extra warmth radiated by the wall gives some protection to the blossom against frost and helps the fruit to ripen.  However, I tracked down a second hand copy of Peach Orchards in England by Justin Brooke (1947) which describes how the author established and managed a peach orchard (of free-standing trees) for commercial purposes – which leads me to believe that a wall really isn’t necessary for peaches to grow and fruit well.

And what of Celia’s tree?  It was growing long before the time of peach leaf curl-resistant varieties and fruiting successfully in the English countryside.  Possibly environmental conditions have changed, and in their wake corresponding disease concerns. But with a prize such as this, what risk would not be worth taking?!

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