It is difficult to know why the mulberry is now so rarely grown. It is a most beautiful tree in its own right, easy and fast to grow, and makes a splendid and picturesque ’specimen’. It is also easy to train as a fan or espalier, and crops bountifully when so treated. The fruit ripens from pink to deepest ruby, and is so full of juice that it is impossible to eat without stained fingers, The flavour is sharp and sweet at the same time, and deliciously fragrant. A dish of mulberries gives a grand finish to a late summer meal. They make a full-flavoured jelly and a good wine.
Make sure you plant only the black mulberry, Morus nigra. The white sort has fruits which are oddly bland, and not worth eating, though silkworms adore the leaves.
The only disadvantage of the mulberry is that young trees can take eight to ten years to fruit, so they are something of a long-tenn investment. By that time, they are also very attractive to look at. Try planting one or two as soon as you move to a new garden.
Cultivation: Plant in spring if possible. Mulberries are happy in most soils. They do well in the lawn, and even better against walls, whether pruned or not. Since they are obedient to train, form an espalier to make the best use of wall space. Mature trees sometimes need support for the lower boughs, but this only adds charm to their venerable appearance. They’re particularly good if you want to grow strawberries beneath (or bulbs, if you want flowers). Since the trees are the last of all garden plants to come into leaf, this gives strawberry or bulb foliage plenty of time, and light, to mature.
Pests and diseases: Starlings and thrushes take the fruits while they are still firm and on the tree. Blackbirds take them once they have fallen. Mature trees fruit so abundantly that if you can scare only that species away, you will do reasonably well.
Harvesting: When the fruit is ripe, it falls naturally to the ground, so the best specimens are always gathered from beneath the tree. Provide something to soften their landing, even a plastic sheet, so that they do not bruise. Both this, and basic protection, are easiest for wall grown plants. If protection and harvesting are a problem, pick the fruit while firm, and use it for jelly or jam. If it is undamaged, spread it out on shelves to ripen a little more.
Nectar indeed is this wonderful variant of the peach. The genetic difference is so slight that very occasionally branches of peach trees are said to bear nectarines. This is quite a transformation, for the skins of nectarines are shiny, without down, and the flesh is firm. This does not stop them from being lusciously juicy, with a sumptuous flavour. If you want to make the most of a small sunny wall, or
a small greenhouse, nectarines are the trees to grow. They may be a little less hardy than peaches, but still do well outdoors in parts of northern Europe.
Two nectarine varieties are to be recommended ‘Early Rivers’, which is easily obtainable and delicious, and ‘Lord Napier’ of even better flavour but not so commonly found.
Cultivation and pests and diseases: are as you might expect, the same as for the peach.
Harvesting: Nectarines remain on the tree as they ripen. As the colour deepens and the perfume gets stronger, keep checking them with a gentle touch to see if the flesh is softening. It is not as soft as that of the peach. You will probably find that as you test the flesh the fruits detach themselves from the tree.