The Stopwatch Gardener

A gardening blog from Sheila M. Averbuch

Pause for the cos


Click for larger image
Two weeks is much more of a gap than I’d ever expected to leave between posts — sorry. January-February were a bit alarming in work terms, and I now know what the clock on my desk looks like when it strikes 11 PM and beyond. My gardening has been confined to stolen moments of web research, so it was a thrill last week to pause my work schedule to visit a garden centre for the Eatin’ Project. My mission: find liquid seaweed to fortify my thin-necked cos lettuce seedlings and another tier to raise my raised bed.

Am I the only one who struggles with garden maths? Turns out my Haxnicks foot-deep raised bed isn’t. It’s six inches deep. My topsoil calculations were hilariously wrong. No one is impressed with the gigantic sack of topsoil I’ve left idling in the neighbour’s driveway, but finally I have another raised bed tier. Gordon the gardener will now help me distribute topsoil mountain all about, and if the weather plays ball I may get a few of those cos in, probably under cloche, probably after warming the bed a bit. (Note, I never saw a reply from Haxnicks following my query to their website about tiering, despite the jolly auto reply that promised immediate gratification. @haxnicks, for shame!) My Parmex carrot seeds have also germinated; next stop, spring onion junction.Click for larger image

Have I talked enough about vegetables? Can I move on to something more beautiful? See the greenhouse to the left of the picture window? It’s going to be shifted to liberate its wonderfully sunny wall for trained fruit. After much soul and web searching, it won’t be a cordon, espalier or fan, but a duo of so-called minarette pears from Ken Muir: the varieties are the agreeable Concorde and the king of juicy, Williams’ bon Chretien. (Concorde is partially self fertile but don’t expect great things without a pollination partner.)
The minarettes can be planted as close together as two or three feet, trained straight up or (as I’m planning) on an angle. I came so-o-o-o close to quince “Vranja”, with its intoxicating tropical scent, but finding a dwarfing rootstock proved extremely difficult, and I didn’t fancy years of hard pruning to keep a more vigorous “A” rootstock specimen in this tiny space.

Wait, can you hear it? The grindstone is calling me back, and I need to put in a few more hours’ writing before I sleep.

But please, please do tell if you have experience with “Concorde”, “Williams’ bon Chretien” or any minarette fruit. Did it perform for you? And is the taste of Williams’, in particular, going to be worth my three years’ wait?

14 Comments to

“Pause for the cos”

  1. On March 1st, 2010 at 10:17 pm Claire, Plantpassion Says:

    Cordons and Minarettes are great, and easy to look after, – if you’re going to grow in the ground, and can put up support wires then i’d suggest Cordons, – if you are going to grow in pots, or to frame an opening (e.g doorway or gateway) then i’d suggest Minarettes.

  2. On March 2nd, 2010 at 9:12 am The StopWatch Gardener Says:

    Thanks Claire – I always rely on wires and vine eyes but will they look permanently conspicuous if used to train those two minarettes (since the trees are never going to branch out and fluff up the way Wisteria, for example, does)? Is there any other way to secure those minarettes other than having horizontal wire the width of the 5 foot wall?

  3. On March 2nd, 2010 at 10:09 am Lia Leendertz Says:

    I do have a pear tree at the allotment and the tricky thing seems to be not growing it, but working out when to pick, ripen and eat. We always seem to get this slightly wrong.
    Your wall minarette idea reminded me of the wall of the kitchen garden at Aberglasney. There they have minarettes but grown in a criss-cross fashion. There is a picture of some newly planted apples here but they have also done it with some really old pears and they have fused together. Looks magic (and a way to fit even more pears into your tiny space?!)

  4. On March 2nd, 2010 at 12:25 pm Tom Huges Says:

    Hi – can I put in a word for Haxnicks – It’s Tom here and I have worked at Haxnicks for over a year now. Anyhow just checked our website and cannot find where is says our Raised Beds are a foot deep – they have always been 6″. I am also investigating why no-one replied to your enquired.

    Each Raised Bed Base comes with extension poles which allow you to Tier them… I’ll make sure someone sends you a proper answer on this though.

    Great article by the way and I hope all goes well and you get a chance to do some gardening as well as web research.

  5. On March 2nd, 2010 at 12:46 pm The StopWatch Gardener Says:

    Thanks Tom! I actually should’ve clarified in the post — it was my mistake that I’d assumed it was a 1 foot deep bed. But then when I realized it was six inches and I needed a deeper depth (so to speak) I wanted guidance about tiering; I wasn’t sure whether there would be a gap between the two tiers and the soil would come out. I can now see there is a gap — but is that going to be a problem? I’m thinking of using plastic lawn edging to line around the outside before I fill it up, to keep the soil in. But maybe you designed it for some reason to have a gap?

  6. On March 2nd, 2010 at 1:23 pm The StopWatch Gardener Says:


    Those diamond shapes are stunning – I’m so glad you showed me that before I got these minarettes into the ground. I’ll probably place them to cross each other; but in the photo it looks like they’ve got two branches coming off one apple; I think my minarettes will have a single leader only and nothing else that’s train at a different angle? Thanks for the info about judging the picking time. I won’t get to practice that for a few years anyway!

  7. On March 2nd, 2010 at 1:37 pm Lia Leendertz Says:

    You’re right, they have been pruned and trained into v-shapes, obviously makes the plant ‘go’ futher, but should still be able to do it with the minarettes, I reckon. And dont forget to bind them together where they meet, so that they fuse. Am quite jealous. Might do this myself!

  8. On March 2nd, 2010 at 3:43 pm The StopWatch Gardener Says:

    Ooh that sounds advanced — I had missed the point you made originally about fusing. I’m assuming that means nicking down to the cambium layer as well as binding them? Sounds like tree shaping (which I knew nothing about but just googled).

    You first — I’m afraid of losing my maidens!

  9. On March 2nd, 2010 at 4:23 pm Lia Leendertz Says:

    Aw, the chair tree in that link is so great! I want one. I suppose you could nick and bind, but I bet it would work eventually if you were too scared and just bound them. Probably quicker with the nick. I havent actually got any maidens to do it with (yet). Dare you.

  10. On March 12th, 2010 at 3:32 pm Martyn Cox Says:

    Garden maths has never been strong point either. Many years ago I had to take a pesticide spraying certificate. I didn’t understand how to calculate how much neat chemical to add to the sprayer to cover the area that needed to be sprayed. I’ve no idea how I managed to pass, but I did

  11. On March 12th, 2010 at 4:23 pm The StopWatch Gardener Says:

    Hi Martyn – Aha! It’s not just me, then. I was going to say that the decreasing popularity of chemical sprays kind of solves your problem, but it doesn’t really, as you still need to do the maths to dilute your nematodes and such. In my publishing business I promised myself years ago that I would stop “glazing over” when I saw spreadsheets and other financials from my accountant; I have forced myself to get interested in the numbers over the years, and make sense of them, but I just can’t love them. I’m all about the words and the plants. I think I lack the maths gene. God help my kids when their homework goes beyond the 2+2 stage.

  12. On March 12th, 2010 at 4:53 pm tom hughes Says:

    Hi again,

    Hmm, we didnt design the bed to have gaps, we designed it to have strong corners that won’t deteriorate, hence the raised lip.
    BUT, we find that the soil sits quite happily, and doesn’t escape from the small gap. (Unless you put pretty female bits of soil outside, and then it positively dives through the gap..)

  13. On March 30th, 2010 at 6:19 pm Elise Stewart Says:

    I am rubbish at any type of maths too – not just the garden type. When I wanted to add to some raised beds I let the nice lady at British Soil work it all out for me. Just as well as I had measured in feet, my husband converted it to cubic meters and the soil was sold in cubic yards! Unfortunately the soil has settled over the year but as I need some more I will be buying extra to do some topping up. All my fruit trees are in pots – a long story – so I hope they will be ok. Still waiting for my first pear.

  14. On March 30th, 2010 at 7:51 pm The StopWatch Gardener Says:

    For me the maths problem was the same one I had at school – pure carelessness. I just assumed the bed was a foot deep but it wasn’t! What fruit trees do you grow in pots? I came so close to buying a quince but the very dwarfing rootstocks weren’t availabe. I have often thought of doing container blueberries and keeping them right under my window where I can scare off the birds, because I’d refuse to net…just too ugly. I’d (almost) rather sacrifice the berries!

Email will not be published

Website example

Your Comment: