It’s proving to be a ‘fruitful’ autumn in the hedgerows and orchards; last week I wrote about the ‘blackberry bounty’ and this week I’m banging the ‘plum drum’! I have had to compete with my 3 little pigs for my own fruits, as my plum tree overhangs the piggy pen (one of the pigs was virtually standing on another to reach the lower fruit – is that where the term ‘piggie back’ comes from?)
There are over 2,000 varieties of plums and they are also related to the peach, nectarine and almonds. Collectively this group is known as ‘drupes’, a fruit that has a hard stone-pit surrounding the seed. And like peaches, plum varieties are either clingstones or freestones depending how easily the flesh pulls away from the stone.
As plums are amongst the earliest flowering fruit trees, pollination can sometimes be disappointing and the early flowering varieties are also often clobbered by the frost. If choosing a tree for your own garden, it is probably worth considering a mid or late season flowering, self-fertile variety such as the old favourite, Victoria.
Victoria is also a ‘dual purpose’ plum as it can be used for cooking when firm and eating fresh when ripe. However if the fruit is more likely to be eaten en-route from the garden to the kitchen, go for an alternative dessert variety like the red Santa Rosa or the violet Kirke’s Blue, both of which have a fabulous rich, sweet flavour.
November is the best time to plant and if space is limited, consider half standard, fan (plums are not grown as espaliers or cordons) or bush options. Although plums are relatively easy to grow, they do prefer a rich, moisture retentive soil and are partial to nitrogen; if you know conditions are harsh it would be worth choosing the hardier Damson type.
And if your fruit does manage to make it to the kitchen why not try a different way of cooking them; make pizza with a twist by grilling sliced plums, goat cheese, walnuts and sage on top of a whole wheat pita bread or pizza base.