Is there anything better than picking fruit fresh from the tree? I think that every garden should have at least one fruit tree and one of the most delicious and fairly easy to grow ones is the Prunus domestica, or plum tree. I am a big fan of these lovely trees that not only look lovely in stature and leaf but also have a great yield of delicious fruit for baking making jam, or simply enjoying them fresh off the tree.
The plum tree belongs to the Prunus family which is a genus of shrubs and trees including cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines and almonds. Some of my favourite Prunus trees to grow for the garden are plums, gages and damsons, which are all fruiting trees and are closely related. They do differ in fruiting size and taste, ranging from the very tart and acidic to sweet and spicy. But before we start looking at the delicious flavour of the fruit let’s have a look at the trees themselves within a garden setting.
Like most fruit trees, plums are fairly easy to grow as long as they have the right conditions. Plum trees like to be planted in full sun and in a well-drained, somewhat sandy soil and absolutely hate waterlogged soil. Ideally this soil would have a PH range of about 5.5-6.5 and I would suggest being a soil tester kit in the garden centre to see what your soil conditions are before you go about planting a tree.
There are many varieties out there for almost any garden which means there are plenty of options even for the smaller garden. If you don’t want to go for the standard tree then pyramid shaped, fan shaped or festooned tree forms may be an option. For walled gardens espalier plums trained along a sheltered wall can be a wonderful way of saving space and also having a high yield of fruit from the garden. The fruit and tree also look fantastic framed by the backdrop of a wall.
When it comes to climate, plum trees are generally quite hardy but early frost may kill of the flowers of these trees so make sure that when you plant one it is in a sheltered position away from places where dips may create wind and frost pockets.
Many shrubs and trees, particularly those which bear fruit, are grafted onto rootstocks meaning the size of the tree can be controlled. This means that there are many options of plum for every garden, from almost dwarf varieties for patios and containers to larger trees with wider canopies for the bigger plot.
Planting these trees should be done during the dormant season when there is no growth happening on the trees. Interestingly bare root trees tend to establish better in the garden that ones which you may buy in a container so the ideal time would be bare-root season when there are plenty of options out there to choose from. When the time comes to prune, cut the tree back to undamaged branch, ideally to a natural fork in the tree which avoids leaving an unsightly stump.
Caring for the plum tree
Interestingly pruning on your plum should be done in Spring or Autumn and not in the dormant period or mid-to late Autumn as this may expose the tree to risk of infection from bacterial canker and silver leaf disease. Pruning is important to avoid the branches boughing an breaking from the weight of the fruit in harvest season.
5 of my favourites
Prunus domestica ‘Victoria’
This small tree which grows to 2.5-4m in height (depending upon the rootstock) is the most popular tree to grow for a variety of reasons. First of all it is self fertilising meaning you only need one tree asking it a great tree for the smaller or urban plot. It also has a great crop of fruit with a yellow green flesh and an orange to deep red colour on the outside.
Prunus domestica ‘Czar’
This tree is a compact, self fertilising tree which flowers in early Spring and can get from 2.5-4metres tall depending on rootstock. The fruits are a very deep but in August and when picked young are fantastic for making cakes and jams. When left to ripen on the tree these turn near black in colour and are lovely and sweet.
Prunus domestica ‘Opal’
The Opal is a more vigorous variety that has has early purple fruits with a great flavour. It is also self-fertile and very easy to manage. This tree has lovely showy flowers which wildlife is very drawn to and often have a lovely Autumn colour too.
Prunus domestica ‘Damson’
This European plum tree bears deep purple fruits that are smaller than most plums but incredibly delicious for making cakes. Eaten straight off the tree they can be a little too tart to enjoy but in cakes, jams or jellies their flavour fully unfolds.
Prunus ‘Mirabelle de Nancy’
I absolutely love this sub species of the Plum tree. The fruit are small oval yellow plums which have a smooth textured flesh. The flavour is phenomenal and delicious to eat straight off the tree. They are also great for making jam and plum pies and can be used for making wine and brandy.
Buying your plum tree:
Future Forests in Bantry, County Cork have a wonderful selection of fruiting trees for order including many varieties of plums, gages, damsons and mirabelles. Bare root season is the best time to order your trees so start making your plans now and order in November onwards. The full list can be found at www.futureforests.net
Stewed Damson compote
Some of the most delicious recipes find their strength in simplicity. I love this easy recipe using damsons. It’s so delicious over everything from porridge to granola and even added to a bit of greek yoghurt as a snack. It’s also delicious served with cheeses as a chutney style jam. Despite tasting quite tart and acidic, damsons are actually high in natural sugars making them perfect for this recipe.
What you need:
1 kg of damson plums (with pits left in)
3/4 cup of granulated sugar
1/2 cup of water
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla bean (split sideways)
- Combine water, sugar, cinnamon stick and vanilla pod and stir until the sauce becomes slightly syrupy.
- Add the plums and bring to boil the immediately reducing heat. I like to leave the pits in as it gives an extra, almost almond like flavour to the compote. Simmer for about 10 minutes on a low heat until the plums start to tenderise and the sauce thickens into a jamlike consistency.
- Remove the pits from the compote and enjoy.
Serve over granola, porridge for breakfast or if you prefer to enjoy it with dessert serve with Vanilla ice cream or even better impress your guests by serving it with a selection of cheeses and a PX Sherry or even a sweet moscato from Piedmonte. Delicious.