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annual gardening, annual garden design
JUST PEACHY

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Elisabeth Ginsburg
You need this in your perennial border.

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 winter.

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 gradually.

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