Growing cherries is a long held tradition in Britain, especially in Kent, the 'Garden of England' and they are ready to harvest in summer
Although grown throughout the country, Kent is known as the county for cherries. The Gean or Wild cherry is native to Kent but it is thought that the Romans originally introduced the sweet cultivated cherry into Britain. In 1533 on the instruction of Henry VIII, a master nursery was first planted in Teynham, Kent, by Richard Harris, the King's fruiterer. This was to encourage vigorous propagation of sweet cherry varieties that had come over from Flanders. During the 17th and 18th centuries cherry orchards, or gardens as they were known, expanded extensively in what is now known as the Faversham Fruit Belt and the Medway Valley. As William Lambarde recorded in his 1576 Perambulation of Kent, 'This Tenham with its 30 other parishes extending from Rainham to Blean Wood be the cherry garden of Kent. But as this at Tenham is the parent of all the rest.'
These orchards ranged from about two to five acres in size and the trees were planted in a diamond formation about 20 to 30ft apart. At first, when the trees were small, the practice of intercropping took place. Soft fruit or cereal crops were planted between the trees to make good use of the space. As the trees grew the land was used for grazing. These trees often reached up to 60ft tall and long, tapered ladders were needed to pick the fruit. The ladder boy put the ladder in the best place – where there was a heavy setting of fruit and time was not wasted moving from tree to tree.
Modern commercial cherry orchards use much smaller trees which are grown on dwarfing rootstocks with a mix of varieties. These are often netted to protect the fruits from the weather and birds. The cherries are picked either from the ground or using small tripod ladders.
The size of these newer trees makes growing sweet cherries much easier for the home gardener. On Colt rootstock, trees can be maintained at 15-20ft which makes netting and picking the crop much easier and Gisela 5 rootstocks give an even smaller tree, growing only about 10ft in five years. Until this happened sour cherries were the only practical choice for home growing. The self-fertile Morello is still the most popular of these. Great for cooking, it crops well and will also tolerate some shade. So cherry growing is now a much better proposition and you can grow sweet as well as sour varieties. Now keeping the birds away from your fruit may be your biggest problem. If you train your tree in a fan shape against a wall, it makes use of a vertical feature as well as making it easy to net.
Read the rest of this feature on p.46 of the May/June 2012 issue...
By Kate Smith