Home Orchard Essentials

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 Six of the best – Virgil Evetts

Garden centres are just like supermarkets. That apparently friendly, welcoming layout is carefully designed by evil retail psychologists, who employ all manor of arcane trickery to manipulate the hapless shopper into leaving with a trolley full of stuff they didn’t want.  This mental onslaught is even worse in spring, when the big-boys [and girls I imagine] of the nursery world go all-out to dazzle us with the latest in high-health this and grafted everything.

You really need to look beyond all the glossy foliage and dubious promise of bumper crops. You need to work out what you really need and know what will actually work. My experience is pretty Auckland-centric (I know, an unforgivable sin), but my own trials and legion of errors have helped shape my garden into a tight little food factory; churning out plenty of things I can’t buy easily or affordably. For most of us it’s never going to be practical to live entirely off our backyard bounty. Unless you have a lot of time on your hands, a fondness for backbreaking labour and a very big backyard, it’s just a Felicity Kendal pipe-dream. You can however supplement your diet and enhance your cooking with some truly fabulous home-grown produce without too much hard graft.

I’m all about lists. They allow me to write in short, opinionated sound bites and help contain my tendency [which you may have noticed] to via off on meandering tangents. So, I’ve put together a list of essential fruit trees for the home garden. I grow a lot more than these 6, but these are the ones that I really couldn’t live without.  I know, it’s not the traditional time to plant most of these trees [although you can].  But it is time to starting looking around your neighbourhood to see what trees are flowering and fruiting well and will therefore flourish in your own scaled-down Eden. 

Before I proceed, a little ‘don’t blame me’ waiver: All my experience is based on Auckland’s mystery-prize of a climate, volcanic soil and the use of vast quantities of compost. I do things mostly organically, but have been known to throw the odd handful of Nitrophosphate about the place. I don’t use pesticides, but probably would if hot soapy water didn’t work so well. I pay no attention whatsoever to the moon or stars when planting, but feel free if it helps balances your chakras. In other words, I garden for the end results, try not to poison the soil or myself along the way, but don’t get all kaftan and mung bean about it.


Should be the top of any cooks must-have list. If you don’t use this fruit regularly, wake up. Lemons are undemanding trees, they like warmth, sun and a bit of food. For that true lemon flavour you need to squeeze past that big display of Meyers [a cold-hardy hybrid between a lemon and an orange much pushed by garden centres] at your local nursery and search out a true lemon such as Yen Ben or Villa Franca. For something a little more adventurous try a Ponderosa. These monsters can reach a kilo or more per fruit and have thick, fragrant peel, perfect for Glace. Like all citrus, lemons are available on gangly, grow-em big Trifoliata root stock, or the spiky, dwarfing Flying Dragon. One or the other will suit your situation. Barely a day goes by where I don’t use lemons for something: Salad dressing, marinades, serving with fried food, in curries, in cocktails. Simply indispensable.


Rufus Wainwright [Canadian singer song-writer] is quoted as saying he doesn’t care for peaches on account of their overt heterosexuality [he claims to prefer bananas]. Disappointingly poor taste for such a chi-chi gay man. 

If you’ve never eaten a freshly picked, sun-warmed peach, you’ve never eaten a peach at all, and frankly you haven’t lived much either. In my experience, not even the best store-bought version can compare with the fuzzy fragrance and obscene juiciness of a home-grown peach. Anyone with a garden or even a large trough has room for a peach tree. But do some home work before you buy. Peaches can be fussy little buggers, so you need to find one actually that works in your area. The good people at Koanga are full of useful advice on such matters. Of course you then have to decide on what sort of peach you want- clingstone, freestone, white fleshed, yellow fleshed, red fleshed, nectarine [just a fuzz-free peach according to the geneticists]. I can highly recommend the questionably named Black Boy- a luscious, winey, red fleshed peach, and Orion, an heirloom white fleshed from Koanga that fruits to excess and ripens before Christmas At their best peaches are too damn good for anything other than eating au naturale, on a sunny day or made into a perfect, icy Bellini, the divine champagne and white peach cocktail from Harry’s Bar in Venice.



Well they may not have the raw, sex appeal of a peach, but a good apple tree more than pays its rent. As with the above, you need to find one that suits your locale, and personal taste.  My smallish braeburn churns out around 40 Kilos of fruit per year with very little effort on my part. Tossing a bit of food their way from time to time and hanging a Codling moth trap near by is pretty much all it takes.  I press my entire crop into wine each Autumn, but I suppose you could even eat them. Apples will fruit well everywhere in New Zealand, and Nurseries such as Koanga and Diacks offer dozens of different varieties, often with charmingly absurd names – Slack My Girdle, Nonette Bastard and Brown Snout, to name but a few.


There’s evidence a-plenty that figs were once a popular table fruit in New Zealand – just count the number of mature trees in Northern parts of the country.  But  for some reason they fell out of favor. A whole generation forgot all about figs. The good news is they appear to be clawing their sweet, perfumed way back into our hearts and gardens. As a commercial fruit, figs are the stuff of nightmares. They don’t ripen at all once picked but tree-ripened fruit are so tender and squishy that they can barely contain themselves on the branch let alone in freight. So unless you grow your own, you’re unlikely to ever taste a perfectly ripe fig.  These trees like more warmth than the above entries but have been known to fruit well against a sunny wall in Christchurch, so don’t despair if you live down south. They fall into two main types- white fleshed and red fleshed, with a few pink procrastinators in between. Personally I find white fleshed figs too cloyingly sweet. It’s hard to tastes much beyond the sugar. A good red fleshed fig however, can be rich, flavoursome delight, with notes of strawberry and honey and a lovely figgy fragrance. Better still, these trees thrive on neglect. Once they get their roots down deep, they can handle drought easily, and are very happy in containers.


Disregard if you’re not into preserves because this pretty little plum is damn near inedible raw. However as jam, paste,  in plum sauce,  liquors and so much more, Damsons have the richest, truest plum flavour you’re even going to find. In spring the trees are blanketed in snowy white, honey scented blossom followed by enormous crops of frosted blue plumlets. The fruit look so good on the tree I can hardly bare to pick them.  I don’t normally have patience for fruit that require processing but Damsons get a permanent pass. They grow and fruit prolifically all over New Zealand and are small manageable trees worthy of a corner in every Foodlovers garden.


Kaffier Lime

Not strictly a fruit tree as it’s not really grown [in New Zealand] for its fruit, but I’d be lost without this fiendishly spiky beast. The leaves of Kaffier lime have a truly unique fragrance and flavour. Sort of citrusy, but mostly just kaffier limey. I guess you could sum it up by saying they taste like Thai food. These are very much the South East Asian equivalent of bay leaves. They are thrown into soups, curries, salads and stir fries. They grow outdoors quite happily in Auckland and in containers in the cooler districts. You might even get the odd wrinkled, green-brain fruit if you’re lucky. What these lack in looks [and juice] they make up with pungently potent zest.  Thanks to their vicious, 5 cm long needle-sharp spines; they make damn fine burglar deterrents too.


So, if you’re not growing at least one of these trees yet, I urge you, with all my flavour obsessed little heart to do a bit of research and find a cultivar that will deliver the goods in your own little corner of Heaven.

And if you have a personal list of home orchard essentials, I’d love to see it…

All contributors to this post will automatically be entered into the draw to win one of 5 copies of New Zealand Gardener Special Edition – Homegrown 3

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33 thoughts on “Home Orchard Essentials

  1. How about the Tamarillo tree? Just when the garden seems devoid of any food, there they are, Tamarillos!! Stew them with just a little soft brown sugar, make tarts, cakes, muffins. Add to breakfast or make tangy salsa for your chicken or steak. Yes, tamarillos are an essential tree for my garden!! Oh, also the Quince, paste, jelly, jam or just to make a beautiful decoration in a bowl.

  2. Hi ingrid, that could have been pretty much any of the black eating grapes sold at garden centres but was probably Albany suprise. That pop-out quality is typical of American hybrid grapes a sis that rich, musky garden grape flavour.

    Pam your should be able to grow black current down your way. They are grown commercially near Nelson, which isnt [as the crow flies] too far from you really. Im not sure about quantity but quality should be pretty good. They are most suseptable to mildew, but resistant strains are quite common.

    Thanks and good luck

  3. Could anyone tell me if Black Currants can be grown successfully in Kapiti/Horowhenua (say Otaki, Te Horo, Manakau region)? If so, what varieties, and what quality and quantity of fruit would a bush produce? Any particular susceptibilities to disease?

  4. I’m slowly replacing the shrubs with fruit trees and my next mission is a grape.
    As a child in the 60s my neighbour had a grape sprawling over his fence. The grapes were black and very tasty and you could suck the flesh out of the tough skin. Children from afar would flock to feed on them.
    Does anyone know the name of this grapevine?

  5. We are so lucky – we moved into a house with a great range of established fruit trees;
    Loquat (sp?) – sub-tropical fruit, Orange, Mandarin (2 varieties), Pears (2 varieties), plum, avocado, peach, grape (4 varieties), feijoa, guava, apple (2 varieties) and lemons (2 varieties).
    But we have since planted PASSIONFRUIT and LIME.

    Fruit picked directly from the trees have sooo much more flavour than those you you get in the shops and its amazing how many different things you can do with them so there isn’t any waste

  6. Lovely to hear the quantity of fruit coming from the small Braeburn apple tree. Our one is flooded with little baby apples and we can’t wait to make good use of them.

  7. We were fortunate that when we bought our home the garden was bare – so I got to design our orchard from scratch.

    We couldn’t live without:
    – Lemon (both Meyer and Yen Ben)
    – Tahitian Lime
    – Valencia Orange
    – Satsuma Mandarin
    – Apricot “Pahi”

    When we find the time and money to sort out the front garden, we’ll be planting our wished for essentials:
    – Almond “Garden Prince” (starting off in a pot right now)
    – Hazelnuts (probably double-grafted)
    – Apple (espaliered – variety still to be agreed on)
    – Pear (espaliered – variety still to be agreed on)

  8. We have lemons, cherries, white and red eating grapes, apricots, 3 different varieties of plums, apples, fig, quince, feijoa, nashi pears, macadamia, cape gooseberries, raspberries, strawberries, blue berries and gooseberries. All but the berries where at the property when we bought it.

    Living near Nelson, the biggest problems we have are the clay soils, the lack of water during the summer months and the wildlife stealing the fruit just as it comes ripe.

    If we don’t cover the pear, fig, and apricot trees and the berries, the possums and birds can strip a tree of fruit overnight!

    As much as we love berries they are not worth the effort given that we can buy them down the road at the orchards at very reasonable prices. The cost of watering, maintaining (given poor soil quality) and protecting the fruit out ways the benefits of growing our own. The exception is the cape gooseberries.

    My top Five:
    1. Lemons – we use them a lot and the trees look colourful when in fruit
    2. Cape Gooseberries – birds don’t steal the fruit due so don’t need to cover and they grow really well with fruit almost all year round.
    3. Plums – unfortunately don’t know all the varieties but we have 3 different ones including Black Doris and manage to feed our friends and neighbours and have great plums for making plum sauce and chutneys. The wildlife don’t seem to steal them
    4. Walnut Tree – we don’t have one yet, but we will do when we can work out where we want to plant it.
    5. Nashi Pear – we get so much fruit on the tree….just got to stop the wildlife getting it

  9. Forgot to list our trees:
    4 Golden Queens, 1 Red Delicious, 1 Sturmer, 2 Apricots, 1 60 year old walnut, 2 60 year old feijoas plus a 30 year old hedge of feijoas, 3 nectarines, 2 early small red-skinned plum with yellow fruit plus a Satsuma Plum, 1 lemon, 1 60 year old fig, 1 mandarin (2 others died), 3 tangelos and 4 orange tree. Recently got rid of 2 grapefruit.

  10. No 1 choice = feijoa – There’s nothing in the world that tastes as good as a ripe feijoa. We eat ours, take bags of them to our children/grandchildren, then make heaps of feijoa and ginger/pineapple jam, plus freeze some for feijoa loaf.
    No 2 = Cooking apple – this is cooked and frozen for apple pies and applesauce.
    No 3 = Golden Queen peaches for bottling (I do heaps) I’d love an old-fashioned white eating peach though, and I’ve bottled Black Boys too. Put this in the whiz to make a great fruit drink with water.
    No 4 = Apricots. Ours ripens over 2 week at Christmas/New Years and our grandchildren can’t get enough of them.
    No 5 – Satsuma Plum makes the best plum sauce and Satsuma Plum Jam tastes like no other Plum jam – Yummy!
    No 6 – Oranges, Mandarins and Tangelos – gotta have that vitamin C! (If we can keep neighbourhood kids away!)
    Not a tree but a vine – Have you ever tasted a fully ripe kiwifruit just picked off the vine in July? Probably better tasting than feijoas?
    Thank goodness my mother-in-law was a gardener and gave us all these trees to plant. They fed us, our kids and now our mokopuna!

  11. Ive never met anyone who was got fruit from an orange berry. Im so heartned to see how many of us are growing our own fruit, and as Anne illustrtaes, its not solet the doamin of those of us with a garden. Many [if not most] fruit will grow and fruit in containers.
    Oh yeah Forgot, for my list- Sweet black fleshed plum, mulberry and goji berry.

  12. definitely lemon, for the gin,
    then feijoa, so juicy and tasty
    grapes, nothing like picking your own sun ripened grapes – if the wasps dont get there first,
    tamarillo because they also look splendid on the tree
    passionfruit, the flowers are so pretty and the fruit so yummy.
    Not to mention the blueberries, avocadoes, cherry, raspberry, red currant, boysenberry, peach and nectarine – our small section is starting to overflow especially seeing we tend to buy in pairs!!!!

  13. So far we have 2 figs, walnut, hazelnut, 3 pears (1 is a red pear), a gorgeous old apricot, a free-stone white flesh peach, a clingstone peach, a cherry, feijoa, blackboy peach, 8 gooseberries, half are red ones, raspberries, boysenberries, blueberies, cranberries, hybridberries, blackberries, guava, about 4 different lemons, 2-3 grapefruit, a seville, a blood orange, and a Hardwood late, a lemonade, a Tahitian lime (the kaffir lime got ate by the lawnmower) hmmm what else – a prolific plum (large purple skin/flesh), a small tart very prolific apple, a couple of nectarines, a pomegranate, a passionfruit. And the red & black currants. I think that is about it. What I also want is a Almond. Did I beat Virgil? ohh and the loquat (fruiting now and very yummy) plus the tangelo.

  14. Our newly purchased property has an old established orchard so this season will be quite exciting to see what all the varieties of plum, nectarine, apricot, peach, fig, apple, avocado & fejoa are. My favourite – hard to choose but probably apples and cherries.

  15. Having come to live in Kapiti we were astonished to discover our newly purchased property had only a lemon tree! We have now rectified this and in the two years we have been here, this is what we consider essential
    Tamarillo (chutney! 34 fruit off it the first year from my $10 plant)
    Apple (we plan more, just one called Liberty at the moment)
    Plum (hawera but a Damson next year)
    Nashi (we put in a treble grafted)
    Feijoa (essential, I adore them and Canadian friends can’t get enough of them when they visit)
    Satsuma Mandarin (um, a wee bit small and dry, any tips on improving this?)
    Passionfruit (heaps of fruit, but should wehave pruned it this year?)
    Thornless Blackberry
    Orangeberry (one flower and no fruit in two years is this a record?)
    On the Wish List:
    Apple Monty’s Surprise
    Plum – Satsuma? (want a black juicy one that tastes like a plum)
    Have been told that stone fruit don’t really like Kapiti, anyone got a different story? as we’d love an apricot)
    Oh for a bigger yard.

  16. Our favourite has to be the NZ orange, satsuma mandarine and all other citrus trees. We daily juice what ever fruit/vege’s we have and often spend nights peeling mandarines for our morning juice. So wonderful to pick, juice and eat in 1 day.

  17. We don’t have much fruit growing in our garden, but I am so pleased that we have a feijoa tree. It fruits prolifically and I can eat fresh Feijoas and have enough spare for jam or frozen for later fruit crumbles.
    We planted an apricot tree about 3 years ago and it managed to survive and is doing better every year.

  18. In addition to those… here are the fruit I also grow, but could if I REALLY had to , live without. Maybe: Quince, Pear, Cider apple, lime, Capulin cherry, Mandarin, 3 types of grape, Pistachio, Blood orange, elderberry, raspberry [yellow and black], boysenberry, tayberry, Black current, white current, blueberry, Babaco, Banana, Rose apple, Red grapefruit, Icecream bean, passionfruit. I think thats it.
    Oh yeah the green house stuff too: Lychees, Longan, Rollinia, soursop, Malay apple, jackfruit, Marula, Dragonfruit, Papaya, pineapple, sapodilla, Atemoya, starfruit, Key lime, Guava. Ok Im just showing off now.

  19. We have a persimmon (my husbands favourite fruit) olives (mine), feijoa’s running out of our ear’s, much to the delight of our grand daughters, cranberries, strawberries, tangeloes, meyer lemon’s, clemintine’s, red & green grapes, orangeberries, black passion fruit and last but not least guava’s. All these fruits have lasted us through the year either in jams, jellies, dried or frozen.
    We wouldn’t be with our garden for fruit and vegetables.

  20. What a fab site this is, it’s the first time I’ve had a newsletter and I’m so delighted with the content and ease of following through.
    We are just starting to plan an orchard and have decided to have feijoa,fig, nectarine, plum to start, we already have 5 apple trees(of no known variety yet)and 2 meyer lemons.
    Yes I think a quince too will be joining the list

  21. We love our Peach and Plum tree but are having some problems getting our avocado going, have got it over the winter and have good growth but getting browning on some stems which we have cut out. Anyone have any hints!!!

  22. Black Doris Plum is our favourite – dark red freestone, great for bottling eating jam etc. Goldmine nectarine is another firm favourite -delicious white sweet flesh especially good to pick and eat! Golden Queen is another special peach wonderful firm flesh and good for bottling eating jam etc. Sturmer Apples are favoured in cold climates but royal Gala is a close second. William bon Cretien pears are wonderful to eat or bottle -great flavour!

  23. Our Orange tree is wonderful in the spring and laden with fruit.A Granny Smith because thats me, April white peach after a grandaughter with the same name, Olive trees for our Olivia grandaughter,A peas good non-such apple because we have planted one everywhere we live and it’s wonderful for cooking and a pear tree tree as it’s my husbands favourite fruit.

  24. Persimmons are great fruit bearers, delicious to eat and great for making jelly. We also have a very sweet white grape which is another source for jelly. (Those we can beat the birds to.!) This year I am hoping for tamarillos I have four trees come up, self sown, from seeds that were in the compost.

  25. Since all the orchard have been pulled out in this district,I have started growing my own fruittrees in bags,so they stay small and easily managed.I grow 2 heritage appletrees,Hetlina and L.Fortune,a Wiggins and Peregrine peach,2 cherrie trees,Green Gage and Coes Golden Drop plum trees, 2 necterines,an apricot and a quince,especially for the quincepaste!Last of all a figtree ,my own paradise !

  26. You have left out the best!

    Quince – easy care, fabulous looking fruit and makes the best ever paste to have with cheese.

    Hazelnuts – easy care, prolific. Great roasted. Puree them to make homemade “nutella”.

    Elderberry – am making cordial now. Will make wine later.

    Cherry – have just picked my earliest (a red cherry) tastes great, now waiting for the black ones!

  27. When we create our garden I would like to have at least the following:
    Quince tree (hard to find fruit!)
    Cherry tree
    Lemon tree
    Tamarillo tree (for eating)
    Feijoa tree
    and possibly an apple tree if we have room

  28. You have left out Tamarillos,manderins and Oranges, with these along with Feijoas and Guavas and the above mentioned I have fruit all year round .
    I would swap the damson plums for a red plum that can be eaten as well as made into jams and sauces. I have Sultan

  29. Favourite ‘fruit’ trees for our home garden:
    Lisbon and Yen Ben Lemon trees
    Any kind of Feijoa trees
    Albany Surprise Grape Vine
    Tamarillo tree (for Tamarillo Chutney)
    Kaffir Lime tree
    Red Grapefruit Tree

  30. Just love my Satsuma plum tree. Besides the delicious, firm red flesh, this is a lovely eating and cooking plum. As this tree is a very prolific grower, we stew the fruit, make plum chutney, sauce, jam, etc which makes them very versatile.

  31. Crabapples (for the Jelly… Heaven)
    Feijoas – Considered almost a weed by some but not me.
    Grapefruit – A must for marmalade
    Lemons – Ditto
    Granny Smith Apple