The Back Yard

Justin Newcombe's tips for creating a gorgeous and productive garden

Gardening: The apples of my eye

By Justin Newcombe

From forbidden fruit to perfect piemakers, apples are a delight, says Justin Newcombe.

Alexander the Great introduced apples to the west from the Asian steppes. Photo / Supplied
Alexander the Great introduced apples to the west from the Asian steppes. Photo / Supplied

I love the colour, the flavour, the variety, I love the history and I love the tree. I love apples.

Historically apples are the forbidden fruit - a notion instigated by the ancient Greeks and reworked by the Romans and early Christians. Apples are a potent symbol of the tragedy of love. The temptation and betrayal, euphoria and desolation, innocence and guilt, an apparition of the human condition - like an episode of Dynasty without the shopping.

Just looking at the historical track record though, perhaps a banana would be a more appropriate symbol for a forbidden fruit. The botanical name for the apple, Malus, is a derivative of the Latin word for misfortune. Originating in the great fruit and nut forests of the central steppes of Asia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and in China, the apple enjoys a wide range of climates.

Alexander the Great, who sent dwarf varieties to his teacher Aristotle, introduced the apple to the west. As well as flourishing throughout the Mediterranean, the apple's popularity spread rapidly up into northern Europe, where it became part of some great food traditions.

The first apple orchard in the Americas was established in 1625 in Boston. Early New Zealand apple production followed strongly in the British tradition, with most of our heirloom varieties descended from British stock. Of the thousands of apple varieties available, we only buy five or six, but growing apples can offer a much wider range of eating. You can have apples to pick from December to April. If space is an issue then grafting can assist. You can graft multiple varieties (even cider or cooking apples) on to the same tree and the fruit will set and ripen at different times. Grafting can also help combat difficult soils. Some rootstocks (the bit that grows in the ground) like Northern Spy do well in clay soils and can be matched with any apple scion wood (the bit that grows out of the ground) to produce a tree which will behave itself in clay, so pay attention to the rootstock when you buy. A good all-rounder is the 793 rootstock.

Apples can be pruned, shaped and espaliered very easily and the trees needn't be enormous. If you grow one in a tub use dwarf rootstock, but I find it's better to go with more rigorous rootstock in the ground. Popular heirloom varieties in New Zealand are Welcome Vaile Early and Early Strawberry (great for Christmas). Straight after Christmas the Hayward Wright is the pick of the bunch while popular late apples include, Koanga Red Delicious, Captain Kidd, Red Spy and Monty's Surprise. For cooking you can't go past Lord Nelson.

If you're sick of eating the powdery mush we are sometimes served at the shops, think about planting an apple this winter. A crispy sweet apple needn't be the forbidden fruit history portrays. It should simply be a delicious summer treat.

3 of the best: Camellias

Camellia sasanqua 'Mine-No-Yuki'
A crisp white bloom with a soft petal finish.

Camellia reticulata 'Pearl Terry'
A perfect flower with an intense, soft pink colour.

Camellia japonica 'Donna Hertzilla'
10 out of 10 for the name and top marks also for those dandy puce ruffles.

- NZ Herald

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