Gages are the posh cousins of the common-or-garden plum. They are finer in every way and in the UK, somewhat harder to grow, needing more warmth. Compared to plums gages are rounder, often smaller, more delicate and sweeter. The famous greengage is just one variety but there are yellow and blue ones too. The variety I grow – Golden Transparent Gage – ripens to a beautiful amber skin with red-flecks and soft, translucent, golden flesh. It’s a ‘transparent’ gage meaning if you hold the ripe fruit up to the sun you can sometimes see the stone inside. [You can read more about the history and qualities of this and other gage varieties here.]
Whilst Golden Transparent Gage is probably the most delectable fruit in my garden, my tree is reluctant to set fruit, even after producing the wonderful spring blossom you can see in the photo above. Perhaps it is still too young, or perhaps the cold springs and summers we have had lately have not suited it? So despite having trained and coaxed it along for 4 years I have only tasted a half-dozen of its fruit so far, but they were exceptional – succulent, aromatic and syrup-sweet.
As you can see I have trained it as a fan, but with a zig-zag stem. This was achieved relatively simply by taking one of the long new shoots that appeared each year from the middle top branch and bending it down into position – one year to the left, next year to the right. The image above shows it after some 4 years of training.
Training & Pruning
Plums, gages and cherries should never be pruned in the winter as spores of the deadly silver-leaf disease is carried on the rain and enters through cuts and wounds. I’ve seen a group of mature Japanese cherries mis-pruned by the council and all of them were dead by the end of the year due to silver-leaf. So all pruning and training is done in the summer.
Training involves bending last year’s new shoots into place to create the main framework of permanent branches, tying them to canes to produce the main backbone of the fan shape.
Pruning consists of shortening all side shoots that come from the main framework to four or five leaves – it is on these side shoots that next year’s flowers, and therefore fruit, will form.
I purchased the tree in 2008 as a 2-year-old part-trained fan with 5 stems (from Keepers Nursery). Initially I tied bamboo canes to keep the whippy stems in a simple fan-shaped position. By the spring of 2008 I had started to establish the basic shape:
If you look carefully at this photo you can see how the zig-zag stem was created by bending the leader (the strong central shoot that grows from the top branch each year) alternately to the left one year then right the next. In this way one new tier of zig or zag can be added each year, until the required area is covered. Notice also that forks from side branches have been created (i.e. instead of pruning them out, tying them in) to fill in spaces in the fan further from the trunk.
One month on the leaves have emerged. Several new shoots have started to grow away.
By mid-summer the new shoots have become very long and it’s time for summer pruning. (Step-by-step details here)
[To be continued!]