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Miniature planting

I've always been attracted to short things, so it's no wonder I love miniature planting

I’m not sure if it’s because I’m tall and have been since I was about 14 years old, that I’m attracted to short things. I always liked the short boys at school and I still like little things.

I’ve coveted a miniature donkey for years and have recently discovered a number of other options, including pygmy goats and teacup pigs.

The pigs take the cake for cuteness, reaching only around 30cm tall when fully grown and weighing up to 30kg. Sadly miniature goats would inflict the same damage on gardens as their regular-sized mates.

So it’s safer to stick with miniature trees. I’m not talking about bonsai, but rather dwarf fruit and nut trees.

If you’re attracted to short and sweet things, consider planting a genetic dwarf.

They have only been available to home gardeners for about 20 years, but plenty of varieties have been developed, including almond, apple, apricot, cherry, nectarine and peach.

Great & small

Even though it’s probably not politically correct to talk about dwarf trees, the scientific name is brachytic dwarfism, which refers to the shortened distance between buds.

For example, with a miniature peach there are at least twice as many buds occurring over the same distance than with a standard peach.

You can fit around a dozen miniature fruit trees in an average suburban section. Plant them in the garden, in raised beds in a courtyard or paved area, or even in tubs.

If you’re really short of space, but are determined to have as wide a variety of fruit as possible, you can buy grafted trees that provide two or three fruits on one stem (apricot, peach and nectarine) or two different types of apples or pears.

Most dwarf trees are fully grown at two metres, which means you can easily reach the top, even if you’re not as tall as I am.

The added advantages are that they grow faster than their tall buddies and all provide an abundance of flowers.

While standard peach trees like yearly pruning to encourage flower-bud formation, almost every bud on the new growth of miniature trees is a flower one. So they don’t need pruning to stimulate production.

If you don’t know where to start, citrus, fig and olive trees are all good choices – and they look good as well.

Figs are extra useful because they have lovely big leaves and a habit of spreading, so you can plant them to shade you while you’re enjoying a gin and tonic with a lemon from your dwarf citrus in it. To make sure you

get a fig that stays diminutive, choose a grafted plant. It will provide support, help the tree grow faster and speed up the time it takes to fruit.

Now that summer’s here, you’ll be enjoying apples, nectarines and peaches. However, if they’re not from your own orchard, you’re missing out.

When winter rolls around, plant ballerina and crab apples and bonanza peaches. They have beautiful blossoms in spring and fantastic fruit in summer.

oost miniature trees are self-pollinating, but grow several trees together to encourage cross-pollination

and you’ll get more fruit.

Cherry guavas and unique feijoas are also self-pollinating and easy to grow, so put them on the list.

The unique feijoa, a self-fertile cultivar from New Zealand, is a small, productive, vigorous tree growing to about 2.5m – great for smaller gardens. And, like many small, vigorous things, it’s efficient at what it does, so don’t be surprised to get more than 30 fruit in the first year.

While some dwarf varieties make fruit that is smaller than usual, don’t downsize your fruit bowl, as most provide standard- sized fruit and plenty of it.

Espalier

You can still grow fruit trees in smaller gardens – try espaliering them.

Espalier means a central stem with horizontal arms tied along supporting wires. It allows you to increase productivity, while also adding a design element to your garden.

You can espalier fruit trees either by stringing wires horizontally along a wall or fence 60cm apart, or training the growth into a candelabra or fan shape.

Almost any variety of apple or pear is suitable to espalier, depending on rootstock and you can train stone fruit (nectarines, peaches, plums and cherries) into a fan shape, which suits their brittle wood better.

As with traditional plants, espaliered fruit trees require a sunny, sheltered site with good air circulation. Take care if you’re using a north-facing iron fence, as the reflected heat can damage the tree.

If you don’t have a wall, a free-standing frame strung with wires will do the trick. Set your posts about four metres apart with two metres above ground and string five or six wires tightly between them. Hessian, rubber or your old tights all make satisfactory tying materials.

Fresh Christmas gifts

A basket of fresh fruit or veges from your garden makes the perfect Christmas gift for that last-minute guest who turns up out of the blue.

All you need is a few spare trinkets and a container, such as a cane basket or cardboard box, and you’re good to go.

This one is made from a $5 basket from a specials bin and $3 worth of tat. The rest are garden goodies – citrus fruit, nuts, parsley and nasturtiums, and a jar of lime marmalade tucked out of sight.

Apples and nuts in a simple wooden bowl can be given a Christmas dressing with a couple of homemade Christmas biscuits. Garden greens, such as lettuces and broccoli, will look fantastic in tin containers decorated with silver and blue.

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