How can I grow fruit in my small garden?

Create a more productive garden space with this fruit-filled design, says Louisa Gilhooly

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You don’t need acres of land to grow your own fruit. Many fruit trees can be trained up walls or grown as miniature forms, and soft fruit can be grown in pots on the patio. Even the smallest back garden can provide its owner with fruit all year round, space for relaxation and nectar-rich flowers for wildlife.

This design aims to create an attractive cottage-style garden using plants that are ornamental as well as edible. It centres on a working/sitting area, surrounded by fruiting and flowering plants that spill over onto the pathways. Functionality is key and here the different levels of the existing space offer the perfect opportunity for raised planters. The tiny lawn has been replaced with four small beds separated by brick paths and the shed moved to provide an extra vertical growing area in sun. Decorative obelisks will support climbing plants such as gourds or sweetpeas for cutting.

If allowed to grow naturally, most fruit trees will easily become too tall for most small gardens. To overcome the problem, choose trees grafted onto dwarfing rootstocks, which have a more compact habit. These generally grow to around 2m (6ft), or smaller if grown in a pot. You need M27 rootstock for a tiny apple tree, Quince C for pear, Gisela 5 for cherry and Pixy for plum.


Small fruit trees and shrubs will happily grow in pots on a patio. Blueberries intensely dislike alkaline soil, but will grow happily in a tub of ericaceous compost; ‘Top Hat’ and ‘Nelson’ are both self-fertile. Tender plants such as small citrus trees can be taken inside in their pots to protect them from frosts. The lemon ‘Meyer’ is a compact, reliable form.

Growth is restricted by growing in pots, allowing you to grow monsters such as this ‘Brown Turkey’ fig. Underplant a standard potted fruit tree with low-growing herbs or annuals.

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Create a seating area A sheltered seating area with a rustic table and mis-matched chairs provides an area to enjoy homegrown meals as well as an outdoor potting table

Plant cordons on the slant These plum trees are trained into a single stem and lean at 30-45 degrees. Plant them in sequence, 75cm-1m apart (29-39in), so the repetition is visually appealing and helps to add a more ‘designed’ feel to the garden. Restricting their growth also results in more fruit. Here I’d use plums ‘Czar’ and ‘Blue Tit’ and the gage 'Denniston's Superb’ against the rear fence.

Train a fan or two Here the fences and the side of the shed have been clothed with fruit trees that have been coaxed into specific shapes to save space and encourage fruiting. A fan shape is best for peaches, apricots and cherries. Espaliers (an elegant structure of horizontal tiers) are best for apples, pears and figs.

Plant stepovers A stepover is a tiny hedge (technically a single-tiered espalier trained into horizontal stems 30cm/12in high) grown along the border edge. They’re usually an apple or pear tree on dwarfing rootsock; buy one ready-trained or prune it into shape. Here I’ve used apples ‘Egremont Russet’, ‘Greensleeves’, Scrumptious’ and ‘Katy’, and pears ‘Concorde’, ‘Beth’, ‘Doyenne du Comice’ and ‘Invincible’ as low 'stepovers’ – a selection that ensures pollination.

Bring in pollinators Annual flower mixes allow you to change the look of your garden each year and will help encourage bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects into the garden. For a cottage garden feel, try cosmos, zinnias, foxgloves, poppies and borage.

Edge borders with strawberries Alpine strawberries are tolerant of partial shade, the fruits are not as large or sweet as the cultivated fruits, but they are very pretty. Use them at the front of the border, lining the edge of a path, or spilling over the edges of a large container.

Grow your own Pimms! This bed in full sun is lined with strawberries ‘Cambridge Favourite’ and ‘Honeoye’. Cucumber ‘Tokyo Slicer’ and apple mint (Mentha suaveolens) grown nearby provide all you need for a classic summer drink

Add a sun-loving grape Grape vines need a warm, sunny, sheltered site such as this south facing fence. The strawberry grapevine ‘Fragola’ has attractive foliage as well as delicious fruits.

Find space for a small crab apple Most crab apples are perfect for small gardens. In late spring malus ‘Red Sentinel’ has pretty, scented, single white flowers, followed in autumn by clusters of cherry-like, glossy, deep red fruits that persist well into winter… or if you prefer, made into jelly.

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