When we bought our house 11 years ago, we inherited three fruit trees - a conference pear, a plum and a peach tree. None of these would have been my choice. I loathe pears and the plums always got eaten by wasps but my greatest contempt was reserved for the peach tree. We chopped it down 3 years ago and then last year the pear and the plum also went to the great orchard in the sky. I don't miss any of them.
The peach tree had been planted next to the greenhouse. I liked the shape and the leaves of the peach tree but the fruit was a disaster. Every year it produced an abundant crop of furry coated stones. These stones would fall off the tree and break the glass in the greenhouse roof. Those that made it to the ground were too much of a challenge for the lawn mower and worst of all, the shade of the tree made the grass grow badly and encouraged enormous amounts of moss to grow within it.
Would I have loved the tree more if it had fruited? Possibly I would but probably not much. The tree must have been nearly 30 years old by the time we chopped it. If you can't make fruit in 30 years, it's time to chop your tree down.
If I were to plant a peach again - which isn't likely - I'd place it against a sunny wall and train it along that wall. That way the stones would fall in a more controlled way and avoid the damage of the old peach tree.
If you live in the South of England or slightly further north and you have a nice sheltered garden you may like to try and grow your very own peach tree- I do and it's fun and the rewards are not only the sight of a fully ripened peach ready to pick in late August but the joys of a beautiful blossom of tissue paper confetti in early February! I have to say nothing beats this for providing some very early colour in the garden to keep the early crocus and snowdrops company.
I first became interested in the idea of growing peaches many years ago when I was in the process of feeding a growing family. We used to have an ornamental kitchen garden based on the ideas presented by the legendary gardener the late Geoff Hamilton who had a wonderful series about modelling your garden on the Victorian idea where every space was used to provide fruit, veg, or flowers for the family. We thought peach trees fitted well into this system and planted them about 15 years ago.
Peach trees originate from China and are grown commercially in the Mediterranean, but they are slightly more hardy than citrus, so providing you have a sunny south facing wall and can protect them from frost you may be successful. Sadly if you live much further north than the midlands I think you may struggle. We live in the South East so the weather here is the best for peaches in the UK.
One of the most important things we learnt early on is that peaches flower so early in the year, infact you can almost miss it if you don't fancy venturing outside and you can't see the tree from the house. This is lovely because you can enjoy pretty pink blossom as early as February but bad because there are not the pollinating insects around as there would be further south in Europe. Also if there are any frosty nights you may find the blossom is damaged and you will lose the entire potential crop. You may have to cover the tree in fleece to protect the delicate flowers. If you go to www.bbc.co.uk/gardening. and type in "peach trees" you can watch a video in which Monty Don shows you how to pollinate a nectarine which is a related tree. In this video he shows you how to help the pollination along with a paintbrush. It is a lovely 5 minute video as it also shows the beauty of a nectarine in flower.
A fan trained tree grows to about 8 feet tall but will spread out by as much as 16 feet.
When we planted ours all those years ago we followed all the advice and really well dug the ground first because you want good moisture but plenty of drainage-you are trying to emulate the weather of Greece and Spain so it can't be waterlogged.
The best variety is called Peregrine which produces peaches each year and is easier to grow than nectarines which are very challenging to the average gardener.
The main pest problem is called "Peach Leaf Curl" which is a fungus carried in the air and causes the leaves to shrivel and turn red. This can be prevented by spraying and to a certain extent by the fleece covering. A new variety called Peach Avalon Pride has been developed which is peach leaf curl resistant and you can buy this from Dobies at www.dobies.co.uk.
Over the years we have enjoyed many beautiful peaches. Some years we have had more success than others and in certain years we have been left with only a handful of peaches which ripen. This is due somewhat to the fact that we have some years been a bit lazy and have not looked after the trees as well as we should. You have to protect them form frost and you have to hand pollinate them if you are going to see a good crop. We have also found that you must water them through the hot summers and feed them nitrogen in the winter as this is essential for a good crop.
If you can provide the right spot and some care for the tree you will be rewarded with delicious peaches which have a lot more flavour than shop bought ones which tend to be picked too early and then ripened off the tree.
We bought ours from a specialist nursery in the Isle of Wight and this is a fantastic place to buy them form as the staff are experts.
Another really helpful website is:
www.fruitexpert.co.uk This website is fantastic as it helps you understand every aspect of growing fruit trees.
In conclusion I would say that it is possible to have a good harvest from a peach tree grown in the UK but you will have to put in some love and care, unlike the Morello Cherry I reviewed recently which tends to look after itself these need a bit of mothering!
Also published on Ciao under my user name Violet1278.