Sunday, 1 December 2013

A Thorn by Another Name, Could Be Less Prickly……by Niall Wildwoode

‘’Look at all of those bloody hawthorns!’’, I shouted as I viewed a small, wooded bank on newly bought ‘Moondawn’. More thorns than any other tree, it looked impenetrable. This statement alone, would have initiated a cull in the first year of at least 50% of them. But the need to keep my projects & developments visually blurred within the landscape, stayed my hand….thorns make good shelter.

Moondawn Thorns 

Some years later with a hankering to get as many varieties of fruit established on my holding as possible, I had to relearn the classic art of grafting : the craft of splicing the growing-tip of a desirable woody plant, onto a young, rooted species of the same, which itself displays traits of resilience not found in the former. Your roses will likely have been grafted (unless they’re ‘species’ roses) – a variety will have been selected from thousands of germinated seeds, because of its colour, form and scent, but most likely will perform poorly in the long term. This is due to weaknesses brought about by generations of cross-breeding, but is resolved by grafting a piece onto a relative of the tenacious, wild dog rose; if the two ‘take’, then the dog rose will provide a strong root system & vigorous habit, whilst the hybrid does it’s stuff at the flower shows.

In my case I wanted many varieties of tree fruit. Starting with apples, I obtained ‘scions’ (small twigs) of the apple trees that I wanted, then grafted them onto specifically bred ‘rootstocks’ of apple which have a growth habit best matching my needs.

But, I do hanker for a little more self-reliance and adventure;  having to buy commercial rootstocks isn't a challenge…..something tinkling in the back of my mind….what did growers use before commercialisation?

OK, back to basics. Fortunately I've worked with trees and shrubs all of my independent life, & have a usable botanical knowledge. The largest percentage of our northern tree fruit are within the Rosaceae plant family….. apples, pears, plums, cherries, quinces..…even strawberries, raspberries & blackberries ( & roses, of course)! The trick it seems, is to find a native tree or shrub that will be a close enough genetic match to the fruit you wish to replicate.

Enter, Hawthorn!!! It’s also in the Rosaceae bunch, and was used as a rootstock in earlier centuries to graft the fruit, Medlar onto, as they’re VERY close cousins. So as a trial, I gave medlar a go on the regrowth of a felled thorn & ‘’hey presto!’’, they ‘took’!.....

Medlar graft on hawthorn, a little moth-eaten

  Next? Hmmm…PEAR!! These are a tad trickier, & are generally grafted onto a variety of quince rootstock. What the heck! I managed to find some ‘Hessle’ pear – a reliable, sweet, Yorkshire variety, & plenty of ‘Conference’. Winter 2010/11 I picked several thorn stems worth playing with on a sunny bank, & slipped the pears in.

   I pretty much left it for a couple of years as life was busy, but recently had a scratch around & found that I had about a 50% take….damned good for something left out to the elements.




Grafting in session

So, ‘’that’s a nice story…’’ you might say, ‘’…and your point is?’’……

The point is that our native trees in this plant family, happen to be some of the most prolific, resilient, fastest-growing species around. Don’t we yearn to return to times when kids can go out to a hedgerow, woodland edge or copse, & pick ripe tree fruit at will? Instead, unless they have access to an orchard or well-stocked garden, supermarket ‘blandings’ are all they’ll experience. Groups talk of ‘community gardens & orchards’, yet fail to see the wealth of potential within the trees they’re grubbing up to achieve this – trees that are already rooted-down, established & vigorous, & which just need converting through grafting.This isn’t a call-to-arms to convert EVERY tree, but to make use of those that might otherwise end up uncared-for, or destroyed….convert them to fruit trees!

Conference pear graft on hawthorn

POTENTIAL X 10,000’S, don’t you think?
By the way, have you ever looked at a single rowan berry, & noticed the shape similarity to another, larger fruit?
Guess what my next trick’s going to be?

by Niall Wildwoode

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