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Going pear-shaped

I’ve just tackled the business of pruning our two pear trees. It’s not a job I much enjoy, because I don’t really know what I’m doing. We’ll see if it works.

This insecurity about cutting back fruit trees may seem odd, because I grew up surrounded by them: the garden of our home in Hertfordshire was wonderfully stocked with apple, plum and even greengage trees, though I don’t remember a pear.

The fact is my parents rarely if ever pruned them, so I think I’ve inherited this hang-up: Like so many other things, I can say it’s all in the genes…

In any case, our pear trees have a tendency to behave oddly. The first one grows tall and straight and shows no inclination to spread out. Last year it formed a narrow frame, with dense foliage, towering over the guava and lime trees nearby. It looked as if it was suffocating in the summer heat.

The second one, planted against the green fence, was supposedly being trained into an espalier. But it encountered stiff resistance from the honeysuckle planted far too densely along the fence. Its leaves shrivelled and it almost gave up the ghost – before suddenly shooting up and aiming for the sky, just like tree (1). Are trees given to copycat behaviour, I wonder?

Especially odd was the manner in which tree (1) bore fruit: There was just one pear in the spring and it was ripe by July. Not very flavoursome, a little insipid, but fresh and juicy nonetheless. Then a second pear emerged, lower down the tree – and slowly, slowly ripened through the summer. It was the longest ripening ever of a pear, I reckon: Each day became a kind of challenge between us of “shall we go and see if the pear is ready to pick yet or not?” It was finally ready in September.

So the purpose of the pruning of tree (2) was to release the failed espalier branches and cut the whole tree back, in the hope that this one will now find her freedom and present us with a crop in 2017. Tree (1) meanwhile was cut down to size and thinned out by pruning two major branches, in the hope that she will develop more of a canopy and put less effort into outstripping the height of our house.

Following the instructions in the Egyptian Agriculture Ministry’s monthly diary I will wait until April to feed the two trees – they are the exception to the general rule of spreading fertiliser in February.

And then, as with most things in our garden, and perhaps in nature, we will wait – and watch.

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