Now that the holidays are over, there are garden-related
things that I should be doing. I could, for example, go out
to the unheated garage and sharpen the blades of my lawn mower.
Or, since I like to stay warm, I could simply go down into
the cellar and clean out my plant room so that everything
will be in order for seed starting next month.
But as much as I need sharp lawn mower blades and a tidy
plant area, I need inspiration a lot more. Therefore, I am
about to order a peach tree.
I am, for the most part, a grower of ornamentals. In
the past I have raised my share of tomatoes, some common herbs,
strawberries, raspberries, and, of course, lavender. But I
have never had a full-fledged vegetable garden, and do not
spend my nights dreaming of a fashionable French potager.
But something strange has come over me in the last few
years, and I can’t really account for it. Last spring I was
seized by the urge to grow my own blueberries, and now, if
I look out my office window, I can see the small branches
of a dwarf blueberry bush rising up from the frozen tundra
that is my back garden. With any luck, this year I will harvest
my first two or three blueberries. If I succeed in getting
three, I will eat one on the spot, give the second one away
to a gardening friend, and freeze the third one to eat next
Now I must have a peach tree. My family loves peaches,
and I buy large quantities of them when they come into season
in the summer. The problem is that the season is short, and
sometimes even the best local purveyor has peaches that are
mushy from improper storage, or bruised from the rigors of
transit, or are otherwise less than optimal. I can avoid all
these disappointments if I grow peaches in my own backyard.
Having decided on a remedy for my peach problem, last
night I snuggled up with the Miller Nursery catalog. Miller’s
is based in Canandaigua, New York, not far from our summer
cottage, and they have sold fruit trees of all kinds for as
long as I can remember. The pictures of luscious fruit that
pop up on every page of the catalog are enough to make you
drool, especially at a time of year when the only decent fruit
available in the markets is imported and expensive.
What I need is a dwarf tree that I can grow in a large
pot on my back porch or somewhere in a sunny spot in my yard.
Fortunately all of Miller’s eleven peach varieties are available
in either standard or dwarf forms. The catalog description
states that the full-grown dwarf trees yield about a half-bushel
of fruit apiece, which seems like a perfectly reasonable amount
for my small family. All varieties are also self-pollinating,
which means that I don’t have to buy two trees in order to
get fruit. The only dilemma is which variety to select. Some
ripen early, some late; some are better for canning, others
are more resistant to bruising. Some peach trees are bred
for colder climates and others have larger fruit. Clearly
a peach is not just a peach.
I am drawn to ‘Dwarf Fingerlakes S.H’. The "S.H." stands
for "Super Hardy", and the description mentions that this
particular variety will survive temperatures as low as 20°
below zero. ‘Dwarf Fingerlakes’ ripens in mid to late September
(at least in central New York State), and allegedly the flesh
does not turn brown when the peaches are sliced. I am not
sure if I believe the "no browning" part, but the phrase "absolutely
drips with peach flavor" makes me salivate.
White peaches usually go for a premium price in the markets,
and I have always liked their flavor. Miller’s offers ‘Champion
White’, that ripens in mid-August. It might be nice to have
early peaches, and the catalog says that ‘Champion White’
is "just about the best for home use." The fruits are supposed
to be large, another plus.
I am also drawn to ‘Old Fashioned Rochester’, because
of family connections to that city. The attraction of this
peach variety is that it tolerates "a wide range of soils"
and also produces over a long season. That way, at least theoretically,
I can have a few peaches every day without worrying about
how to store a bumper crop that ripens all at once.
The great thing about gardening is that there is always
something new to learn. If I commit myself and order a peach
tree, I will have from now until April to learn about the
care and feeding of peach trees. My tree will be raised organically,
which will add another dimension to the learning experience.
I know that even if I install a dwarf peach tree early
in the spring, I will not have fruit this year. Delayed gratification
has never been my strong point, but I also know that next
summerI will be busy harvesting my three blueberries. If I
am going to be a fruit grower, it’s better to ease into it
CHANGE IN THE GARDEN