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April strawberries to October apples, a garden planned for good tastes and good looks.

April strawberries to October apples, a garden planned for good tastes and good looks

Good eating is this garden's primary payoff. From the first plump strawberry in April unit the last crunchy apple in October, the owners have an almost nonstop sequence of fruit.

With the orchard in view all year, how it looks is as important as what it yields. This family's strategy in their garden is to treat the fruit trees (and other edibles) as they would ornamental plants. There are no regimented rows, no soldier-straight trunks. Instead, trunks lean gracefully, limbs fan out low, and trees are sited to create hidden nooks (nectarines are around the bend behind the apples). Strawberries, herbs, and flowers (many of them evergreen) carpet the ground. Fences, lanterns, and meandering walkways are arranged to create interest even when trees are bare-branched.

To the owners, the frequent seasonal changes of fruit trees are far more pleasing than the steadfast foliage of evergreens. In winter, bare twigs sparkle with beads of dew, cast shadow patterns against walls, and admit warming sunlight into the house and garden. By spring, boughs change day by day, as buds swell, blush, and burst into bloom. In fall, leaves turn gold before they drop.

In the mild winters of this Contra Costa County, California, garden, the bare season is brief. Trees often hold their leaves late into November; earliest flowers open three months later, in February.

If you'd like to plant an orchard yourself, now is the time. Nurseries and mail-order catalogs offer the widest variety of deciduous fruit trees while they are still dormant.

Planning a fruit garden

The first requirement is ample sun. This south-facing site is ideal. For maximum light, the fence shown above left dips to waist height on the south side. To provide perfect drainage, the owners planted their fruit trees on slightly raised mounds edged with rocks. Irregular shapes and landscape interest.

Creating a fruit garden as hassle-free as this one takes some research. To find out what fruit varieties produce best with the least amount of care in your area, check with your county extension agent, local fruit growers, or Sunset books. Choose varieties that ripen at different times. Remember that extra-early ripening varieties rarely taste as good as mid-and late-season kinds.

All the fruit trees here are on semidwarf rootstock. Dwarfing rootstock on apples and pears is quite reliable, and apricots, nectarines, and peaches are naturally somewhat compact. The largest tree, the plum, was sited near the north boundary, where it shades the fence and helps screen out neighbors, rather than blocking light needed by other trees.

To further limit size, trees are encouraged to branch low, pruned heavily each winter, and sometimes pinched lightly in summer.

The owners encourage birds by providing water and by spraying only during winter and early spring with dormant oil and a sulfur-soap combination. "The rest of the year, the birds are out pest patrol. We don't net the trees; there's plenty of fruit for the birds and for us. They help clean out the treetops. We avoided planting over paved surfaces, so the mess they make isn't problem.'

Photo: Winter's bare branches. Pruning is a sculptural challenge--working in twos helps. From a distance, she judges overall proportions on "Blenheim' apricot; he then makes each cut. Fence provides a handsome backdrop

Photo: Spring bouquets. Puffs of white petals clothe upright limbs of "Santa Rosa' plum for two to three weeks in March

Photo: Summer bounty. Eight kinds of fruit grow in this 25- by 60-foot front garden. Scented shrubs, bulbs, and other flowers fill gaps. Steppingstones and a meandering gravel path invite exploration

Photo: Crops continue into fall. Planting two trees in one hole squeezes in more varieties and extends the harvest. Each trunk delivers a different crop. She picks "Gravenstein' July through August, "Golden Delicious' from September to Halloween
COPYRIGHT 1988 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Jan 1, 1988
Previous Article:They're easy, and they bloom indoors ... the "spaths."
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