5 of the best …. fruit trees

Lesley Ann Sandbach

Malus ‘Spartan’

James Grieve

Malus ‘James Grieve’


Malus atrosanguinea x ‘Gorgeous’

There’s nothing quite like the taste of fruit picked straight from the tree and with more of us looking for ways to reduce our carbon footprint, growing your own fruit is a brilliant way to cut the airmiles of your food.

Thankfully, it’s not a difficult endeavour. You don’t need an orchard either! Rootstocks are widely available these days and are an effective way of controlling the vigour of a fruit tree, reducing its ultimate size so that almost any sized garden can enjoy some sort of fruit tree

As RHS explains, “Although fruit trees can be grown on their own roots, they are more often than not grafted onto a chosen rootstock (part of tree which includes the roots and the lower part of the trunk). The rootstock will control the rate of growth of the tree, so you can choose a rootstock to produce a tree suitable for the position in which you plan to grow it.”

I’ve narrowed down my favourite fruit trees to provide you with my top 5, as well as providing some ideas of varieties to go for and the appropriate rootstock that you’ll need. I hope it gives you some inspiration for your own garden or courtyard!  

1. Apples

If you want a small apple tree (about 2.5m tall), chose rootstock M9. For cordons and espaliers M26 is ideal. For an apple to grow in a pot or to train as stepovers, chose M27.

Apples are divided into 4 groups in terms of their suitability for cross-pollination. Both of the apples I mention are in Group 3 so are suitable for growing together and most apples can be pollinated by crab apples.

Everyone has their favourite apple and there are so many I could mention but let me give you three to think about:

Malus ‘Spartan’ is never seen in the supermarkets (which select their varieties based on how long they will keep on the shelf), but this is my favourite apple. The fruits are a brilliant maroon red and are borne among large, dark green leaves. The apples are late ripening and are sweet and crisp. From April, its fabulous spring blossoms attract pollinators into the garden.

Malus ‘James Grieve’ is a heritage apple bred in Scotland in the late 1800’s and has Cox’s Orange Pippin in its breeding. It has a lovely, crisp, refreshing flavour and is good for cooking, eating or juicing.  It becomes milder and softer in flavour with keeping, making it a good accompaniment for cheese. Like Spartan, the blossom is frost hardy, and the fruit matures in September or October.

Malus atrosanguinea x ‘Gorgeous’ My final recommendation is a crab apple. They are considered the best pollinators for apples because of their long flowering period. ‘Gorgeous' is a beautiful little tree that gives heavy crops of glossy red fruits, which remain throughout autumn and into winter. As with all crab apples, it is very popular with bees, and will bring more pollinators into your garden. I leave most of the fruits for the birds but they do have high levels of pectin and make a lovely, cerise jelly – a perfect complement to lamb!

Prunus domestica

Prunus domestica ‘Czarr’ – fruit from our own trees, July 2021

Pyrus communis

Pyrus communis ‘Conference’

Pyrus communis

Pyrus communis ‘Doyenne du Comice’

2. Plums

As with apples there are so many wonderful varieties to choose from, it’s almost impossible to narrow the choice. Everyone knows and loves ‘Victoria’ plums, but I thought I would recommend a less-known heritage fruit that I have grown very successfully both on sandy and clay soil.

For a small plum tree, buy one grafted onto Pixy or St Julian A rootstock.

‘Czar’ plums are my favourites! They are reliable croppers; they mature early; are sweet and juicy straight off the tree; they are excellent cookers and are a wonderful subject to paint!

3. Pears

Pears are traditionally large trees so, for a smaller garden, look out for trees grafted onto Quince A or Quince C rootstock.

‘Conference’ pears are well known and have been a popular variety for over 150 years for a reason; they have everything – taste; keeping quality; they are suitable for cooking or eating straight off the tree and they offer lovely blossom and glossy green leaves. The Conference pears offered in supermarkets are generally unripe, although they do develop flavour with keeping, but if they are left on the tree the colour, texture and taste improve and I have picked perfectly ripe, golden brown pears in October.

'Doyenne du Comice' is a delicious, juicy pear bred in the nineteenth century and it has been awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit. The large golden green-yellow pears have a rich, buttery flavour that is perfect poached or eaten fresh. During the spring, from April and through May, beautiful white flowers appear amid the dense green foliage attracting butterflies and birds into the garden. The fruit can be harvested from late August onwards, when it should be picked slightly under-ripe. 

Prunus avium

Prunus avium ‘Sunburst’

Cydonia oblonga

Cydonia oblonga ‘Vranja’

4. Cherries

Cherries can be very labour-intensive if you actually want to eat the cherries your trees produce. I decided some years ago that the joy of the blossom and watching the blackbirds taking the cherries as they ripen was enough reward and I take what the birds miss.

The main cherry fruit tree rootstocks – Colt and Gisela 5 – produce 3 to 4m tall trees and the popular variety ‘Stella’ will stay small enough for a large container.

'Sunburst' is a self-fertile cherry that produces regular, heavy crops of dark red cherries with a very sweet flavour. Bred from 'Stella', 'Sunburst' shares many of its characteristics and is a good choice for any garden. It will eventually reach 4m in height but, if you have room for it, it’s a must for any small orchard.

5. Quinces

In my cold Cotswold garden, I can’t grow peaches or nectarines so my last recommendation is something of a curiosity.  Quinces Cydonia vulgaris or Cydonia oblonga, are related to roses and have been grown here since the 13th century. They should not be confused the Japanese Quince, Chaenomeles.

Quince trees are both ornamental and fruit-bearing. In May, the large, single pale pink flowers are nicely scented and resemble wild roses, and the leaves are soft and downy. Because they are closely related to the pear, they are often grafted onto the same rootstocks as pear trees. The fruits resemble large, downy, golden pears and are highly scented (they were used historically to scent rooms). They make wonderful jelly and Membrillo is a thick, sweet jelly made from the pulp of cooked quince and often served with Manchego cheese.

Vranja’ is considered a reliable variety and is self-fertile – like all quinces, it needs rich soil and plenty of water to produce those huge fruits.

I hope that gives you a few ideas. If you’ve already selected, or indeed have your fruit trees off to a flying start then make sure they have the appropriate support. Head over to the Fruit & Vegetable Supports section of our website to browse our selection of stepovers; great for smaller sized apple trees. Or explore our Trellises & Espaliers, which work well for larger fruit trees. Finally if you’re lucky to have an orchard, our Fruit Tree Stakes are brilliant for supporting heavy branches laden with juicy fruit. There’s something for every type of fruit tree. If you’re not sure what you need then feel free to give us a call and we’ll happily find you a suitable support or two.

Back to blog

Time to get in the garden

Take a look at our look at our full range of garden supports or keep reading Lesley Ann's Garden Journal to see how we can support you in your gardening adventures!