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Leonard Moorehead, The Urban Gardener: Peerless Pears

Saturday, May 16, 2015


Urban gardeners must juggle ambition, opportunity and taste. We toss caution aside and dream beyond the window sill, fire escapes, postage stamp openings in pavement or more generous plots in community gardens. Often we move onward to other destinations to sink roots. Our horizon’s scope is wide, the reality more narrow. Fear not, urban gardener, there are many ways to cultivate a greener vision.

Large flower pots are a fine beginning. It’s much easier to provide first class soil for potted plants than a large garden space. The essential elements remain the same. Value in scale is the great advantage here. Lots of humus, good drainage, a quarter turn at each watering for even growth and we have thriving plants. Alas, there are also disadvantages. Constant attention to the watering needs is a major requirement. Accidents happen in the world. With all the garden eggs in one basket, a few days away during warm weather can wipe out months of care. Infestations of milky spore disease, common enough, can hold the advantage over your smaller number of plants. But let’s look a bit further.

Container gardening is a noble pursuit. The triumph of hope inspires. Many urban gardeners take to the roofs. Acres of asphalt radiate sunshine in shimmering waves of heat. Ingenuity enters the fray. Years of recession have re-taught frugality. Fruit crates, plastic buckets, old shipping pallets are nailed together or artfully arranged. Rainwater is collected and distributed to the plants. Green becomes the colonist where once a desert was the rule. Given strict perimeters urban gardeners become ever more creative. One tool to employ beyond the usual nuts and bolts of good soil, nutrition and water is plant choice.

Do grow miniature varieties of favorite plants. Long for fresh summer squash? Grow bush varieties in bushel baskets. Their upright habit and heavy yield are advantages. Bushel baskets are often free for the taking. Baskets are often found at yard sales for very little money. Line your baskets with brown paper bags. Done with attention to detail and loving care, the paper is virtually invisible. It provides a gentle barrier to water run-off, restrains soil from erosion, and protects wicker. Why pay money to reach a gardening goal when a bit of creativity surpasses anything manufactured and ground out by the thousands. Each garden is the gardener’s signature, make your garden truly yours.

Dwarf varieties of fruit trees are readily available. Standard fruit trees harken to a rural America where miles stretched between houses. Happily, we now have miniature fruit trees with all the merits of the standard ancestral varieties except size. I have very good luck with dwarf fruit trees in my city side lot. You can too.

At first I didn’t recognize Asian pears in the produce section. They were wrapped individually in protective Styrofoam sleeves. Looking more like large brown apples, the price kept me from tasting. Pears have famously long shelf lives and I thought, later, later.

No longer; my friends. Dwarf Asian pears are ideal for the urban garden. Just barely six feet tall and about that in circumference, they are a lovely small tree covered in beautiful white flowers in May. Bumblebees visit them. I borrow a brush from a little used water color paint kit and gently dust pollen from pistol to stamen. The large blooms have few secrets, the golden pollen is within reach and sight. This is not a task for frenzy. Relax, pay attention to the blooms, the mystery of flowers and the purpose of fruit. All primates seek sweetness in fruit and urban gardeners are true to millennia of adaption.

Pears are an old world plant. They were among the first cargos to New England, indeed the famous Dedham Pear is reputed to have been planted in 1640. Our colonial ancestors grew pears for fresh eating and more often, like apples, it wasn’t the fresh fruit the farmers sought but the fortifying beverages made from the pressed fruit. All of us are familiar with cider, the fresh pressing of apples and humorously, the quick transition to “hard” cider before its final resolution as vinegar. All stages are chock full of nutrients. Many people continue to sip a glass of watered apple vinegar each day as a nostrum for all that ails. Why not? Vinegar remains a healthy mixture of beneficial miro-biological cultures. Pears yield a beverage named perry, not so incidentally, an old family name in English.

Dwarf pear stock arrives as nothing so much more than a longish stick with two or three cut branches at one end and very simple bare roots. Soak the roots immediately upon receipt for a few hours or even overnight but not longer, roots need air to survive as well as water. While soaking prepare a “$100 hole for a $10 tree”. Fruit trees need all the sunshine possible and prefer a well- ventilated but protected situation. It’s a sorry sight indeed to see newly planted fruit trees whipped about by gale winds in late summer. Their new roots are torn, wrested from the soil and fail to provide the needs demanded by the incumbent summer foliage. Stake your saplings to prevent stressful movement.

I dust virtually all transplants with rootone, an affordable root promoting hormone. I also plant transplants in soil rich in bonemeal. Bonemeal provides important nutrients for root growth. I’m happy to report that none of my dwarf fruit trees have failed. All flourish in their urban environment. The care and attention given when planted are certain to produce good results for you too.

Plant dwarf fruit trees in large pots or in those sunny spots that offer just enough room. Plant two for better cross- pollination, however pears are self- fertile. Pears are perfect for urban gardeners. Indeed, pears are peerless.

Leonard Moorehead is a life-long gardener. He practices organic-bio/dynamic gardening techniques in a side lot surrounded by city neighborhoods in Providence RI. His adventures in composting, wood chips, manure, seaweed, hay and enormous amounts of leaves are minor distractions to the joy of cultivating the soil with flowers, herbs, vegetables, berries, and dwarf fruit trees.

This article originally ran on 5-17-14


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