GARDENING: Medlar tree would make interesting gift

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I was asked by someone last week if I could recommend a small tree with pretty flowers that would produce fruit as well.

There was only room for one tree, so I first thought of a family tree, where two or more varieties are grafted onto one stock, but she didn’t want the usual apples, pears, plums, peaches, etc, and my next thought, a quince, would have grown too large and untidy for her modest plot. So, how about a medlar?

The medlar produces a curious looking, russet brown fruit, about the size of a large crab-apple, with visible seeds in the hole just below the calyx of the flower.

The fruits are picked in November, then allowed to rot (‘Blet’) for several weeks, after which the sweet, soft flesh can be scooped out with a teaspoon. Once a popular tree, the rather off-putting way of preparation has maybe put people off growing it as a crop, but even if you don’t fancy eating the flash raw, it can be made into delicious pies, jams, jellies and other preserves.

The most popular, widely available variety is Mespilus germanica ‘Nottingham’, which is a large shrub or small tree with pretty, white flowers in spring that are pollinated by bees.

This makes a specimen usually small enough for all but the tiniest gardens, but there is an even smaller variety, ‘Sibley’s Patio’, developed by the fruit authority, Will Sibley, which, grafted onto Quince Adams dwarfing rootstock, can even be grown as a patio tree in a large tub in full sun, producing its fruits from September onwards.

Whether grown in a pot or in the garden, like all medlars, ‘Sibley’s Patio’, requires plenty of moisture, and, if pot-grown, John Innes soil-based compost with added grit should be used.

The ‘Nottingham’ medlar is widely available; ‘Sibley’s Patio’ is available mail order at £29.95, from D T Brown.

It is certainly an interesting fruit tree for someone wanting something different – how about for an unusual Christmas present?

To request a free copy of the D T Brown Fruit and Vegetables Catalogue 2013, write to D. T. Brown, Western Avenue, Matrix Park, Chorley, Lancashire PR7 7NB, telephone 0845 371 0532, fax 0845 371 0534 or go online www.dtbrownndm