I am by absolutely no means a gardening expert - my gosh, nothing could be further from the truth. But I do love gardening - the doing of it, the reading about it, the science of it, even the learning of random Latin that comes along with it. So when people ask me questions about gardening, despite my instinct to rapidly reply with an "I know nothing!", I am trying to give a slightly more thoughtful and useful response.
(Before I go on... these photos, the ones of the ahhhhmazing ornamental pears lining Lake Burley Griffin, are from my very first year in Canberra. In fact, my very first month in Canberra... which is why I never left ;)
The other day a lovely new friend, who had been told I write a gardening blog, asked for advice about trees. Specifically, whether it was worth planting fruiting trees instead of ornamental varieties, even if you don't really care about harvesting much (or any) of the fruit. To anybody who doesn't grow fruit, this might seem like a silly question - I mean, surely you'd want to harvest the fruit right? But, as documented elsewhere on this blog (and to every person within ear shot for the last few months), keeping the fruit on the tree long enough to harvest can be a right royal pain in the butt. So I completely understand why the actual eating of the fruit might not be the deciding factor. What my friend was asking was essentially: is there any real value in the ornamental tree varieties over the fruiting ones?
After much thought, my answer is: yes, there is considerable value in planting the ornamental varieties instead of the fruiting ones. Unless, of course, you want to harvest the fruit (obviously!).
With an ornamental tree, a Manchurian pear for example (as in the photos above), you water it, prune it and otherwise basically care for it, stake it when it is young perhaps, but generally let it do its thing. It will have glorious blossom in springtime, provide lovely shade in summer, produce firecracker colours in autumn and be bare as bones come winter. Lovely. Easy.
But it isn't quite so simple with the fruiting variety. Sure, it will have beautiful blossom in spring (assuming it is old enough - fruiting pears will take their sweet time to produce any blossom and, therefore, fruit). But as for the foliage come summer... Hmmm, not always so easy or straightforward. Please observe Exhibit A:
This here is the result of pear and cherry slug. Please turn your attention to Exhibit B:
The pear and cherry slug is the larvae of a glossy black sawfly. Unless you get rid of them they will quickly skeletonise the leaves of cherry and pear trees, but also plums, apricots, apples... and I think they even got stuck into our almond trees this year. Whilst they won't kill a mature tree, they can kill a younger tree (they took down our three cherry trees a few years ago), and at a minimum they will set the tree back and diminish fruiting. And, clearly, they remove all ornamental value from the tree.
But here's the thing: this just does not affect our ornamental trees (including our ornamental pears, cherry, crab apples, apricot... I'm sure there are more...). At all. Even the ornamental pears that are mere feet from these fruiting varieties remain unaffected.
And pear and cherry slug is by no means the only pest or disease that affects fruit trees: scale, fruit fly, leaf minor, leaf curl... Probably countless more... They all affect fruit trees, but don't seem to affect ornamental trees in the same way, or at all. Of course there are ways to battle these problems without using chemicals (and I will happily chat about how to do that in a future post), but it is a battle that doesn't need to be fought with the ornamentals. In the past five years, we have had dealt with countless episodes of pear and cherry slug, as well as peach leaf curl (which, despite its name, also affects our nectarines). Yet, just metres away, we have ornamental varieties that receive absolutely no love from us apart from water and a good annual pruning, and that have rewarded us with strong growth, lovely blossom, excellent shade and beautiful autumnal colour.
So, in short and after much consideration: nope, I don't think that there is value in planting fruiting tree varieties unless you want to harvest the fruit. And regardless, I truly think that it is worthwhile to plant ornamental varieties throughout the garden too. They are beautiful, shade giving, pollinator-loving trees, and will add so much value to your space.
PS Elizabeth, I have no idea if you read this blog, but if you do, my apologies for answering via here instead of in person! Playgroup never seems to afford the opportunity to actually talk!