I recently visited France and was lucky enough to eat a Greengage, it tasted amazing. I already grow one and I think it is a ‘Doree’ cultivar. Can you suggest where I might buy the cultivar ‘Reine Claude de Bavay’, also known in Australia as ‘old greengage’?
It was a wonderful fruit, I ate it in a number of French desserts. In Australia these desserts would have been served with strawberry or raspberry, but there it was greengages and they took pride of place.
Greengages tasted sweet, velvety and rich. As an avid gardener and cook, I really want to grow it.
We grow all our own food on our farm, a lot of work, but so rewarding. Thank you in anticipation.
The greengage is rarely grown and its fruit even more rarely sold in Australia.
My great uncle Nett & great auntie Florence planted greengages in their orchard. Uncle Eric and auntie Barbara took over the orchard and unexpectedly became the last commercial growers of this fruit in outer London.
The greengage was developed in France from a green-fruited wild plum. Richly flavoured, the fruit are the size of small plums and their colour varies from green to yellow.
Suited to cool temperate regions of Australia, greengages are considered to be one of the finest dessert plums.
You may have to dream on about acquiring a ‘Reine Claude de Bavay’, but at least you can have its picture (above). However, Engall’s Nursery, is a reputable, NSW-based nursery. Phone: 02-9876-2177. In the past I have had dealings with them and they do supply two cultivars: ‘Coe’s Golden Drop’, with fruit ripening in mid-February, and ‘Greengage’, ripening in late January. Both cross-pollinate each other.
The greengage and other stonefruit
Stonefruit are botanically related members of the genus Prunus, and include peach, nectarine, plum, almond, apricot, cherry, damson – and greengage. Their fruit contain a large, hard and often pitted seed. Eaten fresh, dried or used in preserves and cooking, home grown stonefruit are seriously addictive. Why? Allowing them to fully ripen on the tree greatly improves their flavour, it becomes far more complex, not merely sweeter. This is something shop-bought fruit, which is picked too early, cannot equal. Flavour sounds such a minor aspect, but try the taste test if you can.
Stonefruit require a cold winter in order to crop. Peaches and nectarines are the least cold-demanding and can be successfully grown in the subtropics. Sizes vary: dwarf peaches attain a height and spread of 2-3m but cherries can exceed 10m. Pruning can keep them between 4 – 7m and many can be trained as fans or cordons, which are ideal for small gardens.
Container-grown trees can be planted anytime and all crop well after a few years. Bare-rooted trees are sold in winter for immediate planting. Autumn is the best time to prepare ground and order your stonefruit.
It’s essential to plant at least two different cultivars so they can cross-pollinate each other, otherwise crops will be poor. With peach, nectarine and plum it’s wise to discuss which cultivars, including the rootstock used, which best suit your local climate, soil and also make good pollen partners before purchase. You’ll probably only find two cultivars of greengage, cherry isn’t much different and if you find a damson I’d like to know the source!
Stonefruit flower from late winter to early spring, which means their flowers are always vulnerable to a late or severe frost. So the ideal position for stonefruit is in open ground that receives all day sunshine away from frost-collecting hollows. Planting on sloping ground reduces frost damage. Planting rows on a north-south axis and avoiding overcrowding helps reduce the risk of disease. Soak roots of bare-rooted trees in a bucket of seaweed solution for half an hour before planting to rehydrate roots and reduce transplant shock. Stake and water well.
Modern cultivars are sometimes sold as virus-free, grafted trees, and these are a good investment for heavy crops, however flavour is somewhat simplified.
All stonefruit are prone to various fungal diseases, and prefer sandy or loamy soils that are well-drained, well-dug, fertile and compost rich. Clay soils must be improved by annual applications of gypsum. Installing drainage helps. Plum, greengage and cherries tolerate heavy clay soils best as long as they have been loosened by deep digging.
Most cultivars naturally form a vase-like tree which is the simplest way to grow stonefruit. Remove any dead, whippy or crossing branches. Prune to shape in late summer or autumn after harvesting.
Feed annually after flowering finishes using a complete organic fertiliser, such as poultry manure, then monthly using either seaweed or a flower and fruit fertiliser. Chemical fertilisers and drip irrigation encourage the large, bland-tasting fruit many are familiar with in supermarkets.
Water stonefruit during dry weather when they’re in leaf. Dripper irrigation is useful, but bore water must be high quality if used for irrigation. Avoid wetting foliage when watering or feeding.
Organic growers try to avoid routinely spraying with copper-based sprays as this metal can accumulate in soil. However, spraying may be necessary. Use ‘Fungus Fighter’ or lime sulphur (both are organic-approved copper-based sprays). Applications may be necessary in autumn as leaves fall, but the most important time for organic growers is spraying in winter. This is called ‘winter washing’ and this is done in early to mid-August as the flower buds swell. Winter washing simultaneously controls brown rot, leaf curl, scale, mite, aphis and mealybug. Other times spraying may be necessary to control persistent problems is when flowers open or when fruit are nearly mature. Planting orchards on a north-south axis, which allows sunlight to dry foliage and fruit, reduces or eliminates this risk or need to spray. Always observe the manufacturer’s withholding period between spraying and harvesting and wash fruit well to rinse any copper residue off.
Hand thinning fruit, removing one third, may be necessary to avoid branches breaking, poor fruit quality, or fruit drop.
Use 4cm square netting to protect fruit from birds and fruitbats; standard 1cm square bird netting can injure or kill birds. Make sure the netting is supported on a frame and not rubbing fruit or branches.
Fruit fly is a significant pest and in commercial fruit growing districts it is a legal responsibility to bait and spray for this pest. Early cropping stonefruit planted in temperate regions ripen before peak fruit fly season. Use Dak pots to bait male fruit flies and spray fruit with spinosad-based sprays (organic approved) to control fruit fly egg laying on mature fruit.
Harvest fully formed fruit, indicated when they develop some aroma and their flesh has just slightly softened. This takes experience.
Always remove fallen or spoiled fruit and either bury 0.5 metre deep or dispose of them in sealed plastic bags in the garbage, or burn them. Do not compost fruit. Remove all fallen foliage and hot compost or bury. This basic horticultural hygiene helps break the cycle of pests and disease.
European wasps are attracted to ripe fruit, which will become alcoholic. If European wasps become drunk they become extra aggressive. European wasp nests are often established beside stonefruit orchards and this invasive pest requires professional control.
Here are some other greengage contacts. They may now be out of date, but are worth a try if you really want a chance to grow a specimen of ‘Reine Claude de Bavay’:
* Bundanoon Village Nursery, ph: 02-4883-6303
* Premier Nurseries, ph: 02-6962-2537
* Bob Magnus’ Fruit Tree Nursery, ph: 03-6267-4430
* Forbidden Fruit Heritage Nursery, ph: 03-5996-1466
* Pembrooke Gardens, ph: 02-6585-9329
19th October 2011