Saturday, 21 November 2009

Book review-'Grow Your Own Fruit' by Carol Klein & RHS

Here's a book review I have just added to my page of fruit and cider book reviews on my web site, which I am gradually rebuilding after a provider problem. I intend to add reviews of Ciderland by James Crowden, Cider by CAMRA and Craft Cider by Andrew Lea when I find time.

Grow your Own Fruit (Carol Klein and Royal Horticultural Society)
Mitchell Beazley, ISBN 978-1-84533-434-5
hard back 224 pages

I borrowed this book from the library to have a look. It aims to be a comprehensive guide to all sort of fruit growing in the garden, headed up by the popular presenter Carol Klein from BBC's 'Gardener's World' which we usually watch when its on, although I've never really enjoyed it so much since Geoff Hamilton died. Partly nostalgia, partly other reasons I won't bore you with. Its a perfectly decent modern version of that old staple 'The General Purpose Fruit Growing Book' for the average gardener, covering everything from strawberries to melons, and although I prefer the Fruit Garden Displayed, this is a very decent substitute, especially if you like lots (I mean LOTS) of atmospheric colour photographs to look at, and of course if you're a fan of Carol. I'm not particularly, I mention for balance, but I mean no offence and its a decent book.

I haven't read every word, but where I have checked details against my knowledge, it's at least OK. On Quince and Medlars for example, she gets it right about culture, varieties, and how to store and use these somewhat unusual (but worthwhile) fruits. The advice on planting and pruning apples, pears, plums, bush fruit etc are fine (apart from one photo on page 79 showing a very protuberant angled pruning cut which I would never accept) details like removing water shoots, how to hold the secateurs (blade side nearest the tree) are 'industry standard' correct. There is a very acceptable section on pests and diseases which, unusually for anything associated with the 'organic'-fundamentalist BBC, actually mentions specific chemical pesticides necessary to achieve clean fruit. I don't agree with her choice of featured apples, for example I think Discovery is rubbish and she omits many of my top favourites, but that's perfectly normal-long live personal preference in such matters! And none of us knows it all, which is why its good to read more than one account and compare and contrast different writers.

Critical details about rootstocks, training restricted forms, pollination times, the (often neglected) need to thin fruits etc are present and correct. Grafting is not covered, but this is a populist BBC spin off book and most people don't graft, so that's not a major criticism. She does mention a number of old and new apple varieties and, importantly, draws attention to their faults, for example biennial cropping and large size of Blenheim Orange, short shelf life of the otherwise excellent cooker Grenadier, Cox's sickliness (like me, she more or less says 'great flavour, but best avoided'), the need to thin Sunset to avoid tiny fruits, etc. This is a good point-never trust a fruit book that heaps unstinting praise on every variety. Apples like Sunset are worth growing, just remember to thin them, etc. Apple faults are OK, up to a point, as long as you KNOW about them.

This is a comprehensive book which covers nearly all aspects of fruit gardening. I could have enjoyed it as much, possibly more, with fewer pictures of Carol smiling and posing for the camera and a few more of, for example, how prune fruit trees. There are 8 pages on gooseberries (8 pages? Almost nobody can RECOGNISE a gooseberry these days!)-there could have been a decent overview of cider in 8 whole pages. Most likely any reasonable person approaching fruit growing for the first time or wanting to gain more understanding, try some new sorts of fruit and generally do better will find this a pleasant fireside or bedtime book. Its certainly easy reading with so many pretty pictures. I think it might have been a better book for less detail on minor fruits like citrus, melons, gooseberries etc, and the space saved used for recipes for processing surpus fruit into goodies like chutney, cider and jam. But thats only a personal opinion.

VERDICT Certainly worth getting out of the library, although I don't think I'll be buying a copy, but then I do have a large collection of fruit books already. Priced at a very reasonable £16.99, this would make a very acceptable Christmas present for almost any gardener, and is certain better than many of the comparable older 'general purpose fruit grower' books in my collection. But I still prefer the Fruit Garden Displayed.

November 2009.


  1. On the very rare occasions when I have tasted a properly ripe Discovery, I've classed it as one of my favourites. A great example of the value of growing your own, since the only way to enjoy an apple such as Discovery is when it is fully tree ripened, something we will never experience from supermarkets and greengrocers.

  2. Dear Karen and Mark

    That just shows how we all have different views! I am not sure what a ripe Discovery is supposed to be like, since all the Discovery apples I ever tasted were sour and tasteless to me, but they were sold as ripe. Fair enough to give an apple a chance, but comparing and contrasting with various other apples ripe at that season, all the others I know taste better.

    But don't let me put off anyone who likes Discovery. I hate cucumbers and piano music as well!

    Maybe I would prefer it if I grew my own, but when I tried, the tree performed abysmally.


  3. Hi, I live in the small town of Apple Hill, Ontario, named for an old apple orchard up on a hill. Apple Hill recently celebrated its 125 aniversary and so I assume the orchard is at least that old. The orchard is in my neighbour's cattle pastured and has been long neglected but the trees are still very healthy for the most part probably benefiting from lots of fresh cattle manure.

    Anyways I'd like to start my own orchard from purchased rootstock and scions from these old trees. ( I have often wondered if rehabilitating the orchard could be possible)

    My question is how do I identify which variety these undeniably herritage trees belong to? Which reference book would you recomend.

    Thank you

    Jeff M

  4. Nice review Stephen, I just finished Ciderland and look forward to hearing what you think about it. Also, have you ever visited Broome Farm? I just found their website and it looks worth a visit ( Keep up the good work. Henry

  5. Hi Jeff, sorry for delay in responding. On my main web site, there is a section on books, you may find some helpful suggestions there. I recommend Michael Clarke's 'Apples, a Field Guide' as the most useful book for identifying apples, but its English and may be of limited application in Ontario.

    Rehabilitating an old orchardf is challenging, not always possible, but always worth considering unless the trees are absolutely decrepit. I posted a series of videos on youtube on restoring a neglected orchard, albeit only a small one in a friend's garden. Essentially, clear debris, remove any trees which are absolutely disastrous or grossly overcrowded, and for the other trees remove dead, diseased and grossly overcrowded wood, and leave for a year to see how things go.

    Grafting scion from rare old heritage trees is a good thing to do, I have posted some grafting videos on Youtube. must dash, I'm in my lunch break at work....

    Stephen Hayes

  6. i love magners cider.. cant get enough of it. big shout to all you west country cider lovers like me!


Welcome to the Fruitwise Heritage Apples blog. Feel free to leave a comment, I will try to respond where appropriate but FAQs may have been already addressed in my YouTube videos or the site. Remember, I am not a professional fruit grower, only an enthusiastic experienced amateur. Any and all advice is offered freely and with sincere good faith, but remember I might be mistaken, and my preferences,
soil and climate may be different from yours which would diminish the relevance of my advice, so check other sources before acting. In any event, I am not responsible for any outcomes!

Kind regards to all.