The "Orchard"

Calling this little corner of my yard an "orchard" is of course totally laughable. It consists of a few dwarf fruit trees, a row of brambles, some rhubarb and a few berry bushes. That's about all I can squeeze into my small yard. I'm totally new at growing fruit (except for rhubarb and some fairly miserable experience with strawberries), and I'm trying to grow everything organically - we'll see how that goes! Most of these were planted within the past year or two so they're pretty young still.

Rhubarb is easy to grow and has large, ornamental foliage

  • Apple 'Ashmead’s Kernel' (on G11/M111 dwarfing rootstock) - a fall bearing English heirloom apple for fresh eating, cooking, and storage. 
  • Apple 'Akane' (G11) - a late summer bearing Japanese apple for fresh eating                               
  • Apple 'Calville Blanc d’Hiver' (G11/M111) - a winter bearing French heirloom, for cooking and storage
Apple 'Calville Blanc d'Hiver' flowering
  • Pie Cherry 'North Star' - a naturally dwarf tart cherry with red juice
Pie Cherry 'North Star' flowering

  • Plum 'Blue Damson' - a small, tart plum which makes good jam
  • Quince 'Aromatnaya' - quince jam has to be the most sublime food on earth! Not sure if this will produce well this far north (quince is a heat-loving Middle Eastern fruit), but the local grower I purchased it from claims that this cultivar is hardy to zone 5. I couldn't resist giving it a try. So far it is an attractive landscape tree in any case. It has attractive large gray-green leaves, which are fabulously soft and felty when they emerge in spring. The flowers are large as well and come from cute scrolled pink buds. I always see many fat bumblebees swarming around when it is in flower.
Quince 'Aromatnaya' flowering

  • Raspberry 'Boyne' - summer-bearing raspberry. Supposed to be slightly earlier than 'Nova.' Luscious, tangy, raspberry flavor.                                            
  • Raspberry 'Nova' - another summer-bearing raspberry. Supposed to be mid-season, slightly later than 'Boyne', but so far there has been only 1-2 days difference in their production time. Larger, firmer berries than 'Boyne', also very good flavor.                                              
  • Raspberry 'Autumn Britten' - a fall-bearing primocane variety. The flavor of these is definitely inferior to the summer raspberries in my opinion. I do enjoy having them around, because it's just nice to extend the fresh-raspberry eating season, but if you're only planting one kind go with summer-bearers. Less productive than summer raspberries as well.   
  • Blackberry 'Prime Jan' - a fall-bearing, northern hardy primocane blackberry. So far it produces lots of thorny canes and not much fruit, which I guess is the typical problem with blackberries. Also annoying is the fact that the fruit seem to ripen gradually, rather than all at once, which rules out blackberry jam. I was never able to pick more than a handful per week. Maybe the situation will improve when the plants get older.
Blackberry 'Prime Jan' flower

Blackberry 'Prime Jan' fruit

  • Blackberry 'Nelson' - supposedly hardy enough to grow in the North. If this one performs better than 'Prime Jan', 'Jan' may get the ax. 
  • Rhubarb 'Victoria Green' and an unidentified red-stemmed variety
  • Haskap (honeyberry) 'Borealis' plus a pollenizer variety - I'm trying this as a substitute for blueberries, which do not grow well here due to our highly alkaline, heavy soil. It is an attractive shrub with red stems, yellow-green new foliage, and pretty white flowers in early spring.
Haskap flowering in spring

  • Aronia 'Iroquois Beauty' - I love aronia juice. It is delicious mixed with apple and cherry juices. It is very highly regarded in Europe and Russia, but for some reason not often grown in the U.S. (In Russian this is called ryabina chernoplodnaya, or chernoplodka, which means "the black fruit.") I had two other cultivars, 'Nero' and 'Viking', which died due to toxicity from my neighbor's black walnut.
Aronia 'Iroquois Beauty' flowering

Aronia melanocarpa 'Nero' flowering
  • Goji berry 'Phoenix Tears' - this Chinese plant produces tear-drop shaped red berries that are supposedly packed with vitamins and tasty (though tart). I'm not sure how well it will do here (hardiness ratings appear to be all over the map), but I'm giving it a try. It did survive the horrific winter of 2013-14 with no apparent winter damage, so apparently zone 5 is not a problem. It's more of an unruly, sprawling mass than a "shrub" - reports that it is easy to grow up a trellis are highly exaggerated. The flavor is reminiscent of red peppers, which is related to. The flowers are lovely lavender stars.
Goji berry 'Phoenix Tears' - fruit

Goji berry 'Phoenix Tears' - flowers

  • Black Currant 'Black Down' and 'Ben Sarek' - Black currants are one of my favorite berries. Excellent preserves, mashed with sugar and mixed into tea, yogurt/kefir, or over ice cream.
  • Red Currant 'Pink Champagne' - actually a cross between Red and white currants. Supposed to be sweet enough to eat fresh, but I use it for making jam. Cherry or raspberry jam are especially delicious if made with red currant juice, and the high pectin content helps thickening.
Currant 'Pink Champagne' flowering

  • Gooseberry 'Black Velvet' and 'Hinnomaki Red' - choosing a favorite between gooseberry jam and black currant would be impossible for me!
  • Alpine strawberry 'Alexandria' - I grew these from seed and tried growing them in strawberry pots for a while. That didn't seem to work so well as only the uppermost plants were growing well and fruiting. I've transplanted them into the garden this year - hopefully will have more of these tiny, delicious berries this summer! I like the flavor of alpine strawberries better than regular ones (although they are REALLY TINY - as in the size of a small child's pinky fingernail), and they also are clumpers rather than running plants, which is much easier to manage.
Alpine strawberry 'Alexandria' flowering
  • Everbearing strawberry 'Tristan' - these supposedly send out few to no runners - I hope that's true!

June-bearing strawberry - these guys drove me nuts with their constant running! Stop with the runners already!

I have planted the floor and periphery of my orchard with companion shrubs and perennials to create an Integrated Functional Orchard. The idea is that each plant performs a specified function, and all the parts work together (like a function) to create a healthier environment for fruit growing. The goal is to reduce or eliminate the need to spray with chemicals. I read about this idea in the totally awesome Fedco Trees catalog. Here is some more information about Functional Orchards from Fedco. I'm planting these companions around the edges of the orchard and between the trees. Not sure how well it will work, but it will certainly be better for the trees than grass, and more fun to look at too!

Nasturtium, Tanacetum (tansy), Agastache planted between fruit trees

  • Beneficial Insect Accumulators: Dogwood (Cornus), Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus), Coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus), Agastache, Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Lavender (Lavandula angustifolium), Dill. Attract predatory insects, birds, and pollinators.
  • Pest Confusers: Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalus), Daffodils (Narcissus), Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), Chives, Leeks, Nasturtium. Bitter or strong aroma helps deter pests from feeding on fruit or tree.
  • Dynamic Accumulator: Comfrey (Symphytum officinale). Has long taproots that bring nutrients up from subsoil.
  • Nitrogen-Fixer: Thermopsis fabacea. Fixes airborne nitrogen, enriching soil.
Chives and garlic growing beneath my apple trees


  1. I'm amazed at the size of your rhubarb. I have rhubarbs growing in my garden but I could never get them to be that robust. Any secrets other than the climate?

    I have always believed that an orchard is the source of the main ingredients for pies. Your orchard, therefore, is going in the right direction! Keep the fruits coming!

  2. Thanks Helen, so far, rhubarb pie is all my "orchard" has produced, but I'm hoping some of the other plants will start bearing fruit soon!

    Rhubarb has been very easy to grow for me. I know it needs full sun, and prefers rich soil. I feed mine with a layer of compost every spring and it seems to like that. Also, water in dry periods. Another thing is not to harvest too much of it. The rule of thumb I've heard is take no more than 1/3 of the stalks in any one year. That way you leave plenty of foliage for photosynthesis and root growth. Good luck with yours!

  3. In the spring rhubarb is a great product! I eat it with honey, as well as in cakes! Very tasty! I have three large rhubarb bush.


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