Dapple Dandy Plumcot

Six years ago I planted two plumcots (plum x apricot) after trying the cultivar ‘Dapple Dandy’ at the grocery store. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say ‘Dapple Dandy’ is an impressionist’s dream of what a fruit should be — something out of a Monet painting, all splashes of red, green, and ivory with unbelievably beautiful pulp that changes from scarlet near the skin to a bright blush by the stone. The flavor is just as outstanding: a sweet and sour confection that might turn a kid off Jolly Ranchers. The only pitted fruit I’ve tried so far that can compete with it is the new Very Cherry Plum.

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‘Dapply Dandy’ plumcot/pluot looks like something from an impressionist or pointillist painting. A basketful of them makes a nice table centerpiece.

 

Sadly, it hasn’t been quit as a good a tree as the ‘Spring Satin’ plumcot I planted to pollinate it. The first ‘Dapple Dandy’ died after a year or two without growing much. The replacement has done better, but is totally dwarfed by ‘Spring Satin’. Nevertheless, I hoped for a good batch of fruit this year based on the amount of flowers it put on in March. Then two severe late frosts in April ended that.

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‘Spring Satin’ plumcot with smaller ‘Dapple Dandy’ behind it to the right. A very welcome burst of white flowers in February or March.

 

So I’ve been buying a lot of Dapple Dandies from the produce aisle and taking the opportunity to compare them to the other plumcot varieties offered. Most of the other plumcot (and aprium) hybrids are relatively bland and none of them is as aesthetically pleasing. Hence I’ve never been more pumped about ‘Dapple Dandy’. It’s about to get plenty of care in preparation for what will hopefully be a good 2017.

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The brilliantly colored skin and flesh of ‘Dapple Dandy’ add a lot to the pleasure of eating one.

Taste Test: New Very Cherry Plums vs. Plums, Cherries, Apricots, and Plumcots

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From left to right in the long oval basket: 5 cherries; 3 Very Cherry Plums; a dark plumcot; an apricot; and a red plum (the grocer did not sell them under specific variety names, but Very Cherry Plums are all ‘Pixie’). Also ‘Cherry Cheescake’ hibiscus, a white-flowered pineapple lily, and various old and English roses.

 

I don’t always go all in for new fruit varieties — for example, the best tasting fig is one of the oldest. But when it comes to market staples like plums, apricots, and cherries, new really may be better. The most prominent designer fruits from this clan of kissing cousins are plum x apricot hybrids, marketed as plumcots, pluots, or dinosaur eggs. I have never loved plums or apricots, but I planted two of their interspecific offspring after tasting them.

Recently, another line of crosses arrived in grocery stores, this time plums x cherries. Though the parentage is significantly different from plumcots, plum cherries have a similarly well-balanced combination of sweetness, tartness, crisp skin, and juicy pulp that is rare in the parents. One of my first thoughts after biting into one was that it was time to replace the cherry trees.

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Handful of Very Cherry Plums. Halfway in size between a plum and a cherry, reviewers disagree on which parent they most resemble. I consider it an improved cherry.

 

Blindfolded Match-Up

But Before moving forward with any tree replacements, I decided it was way past time to do a proper taste test of plum cherries, plumcots, and their parents. The power of suggestion is strong — perhaps stronger than our tastebuds — when it comes to what we think tastes good. Maybe my preference was all from marketing, mood, or a weakness for trends. Maybe I’d just had a few bad plums in my elementary school lunch.

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Bottom row, left to right: apricot, plumcot, red plum. Middle row, from left to right: plum cherries, cherries.

 

Texture

One of the first things I noticed when setting up the taste test was that the plum cherries were much harder to cut into, hence the very pleasurable tingling when biting into one. The unserrated knife pictured above immediately sliced through apricot, plum, plumcot, and cherry without effort. While the plum cherries have a crunchy exterior, the inside is succulent.

The plum rated lowest for texture: messy/mushy/slimy. On the other end of the spectrum, the apricot was dry and breadlike. The plumcot and cherries both had a good middle ground for texture. But only the plum cherries had a complex texture.

Stone

My biggest bone with stone fruits … is the stone. Again, the plum rated lowest for the pit. While the pit is proportionally smaller in the plum than the others, it does not separate from the pulp, which results in a mess, whether cut or eaten whole. All of the others separated easily and cleanly from their pits. The plum cherries seemed to have the most acceptable pit-to-fruit ratio.

Distinctness

I identified all of the fruits correctly and easily blindfolded. And I still rated the plum and apricot lowest for flavor. Another participant in the blind taste test confused the plumcot and plum cherries. They both have a very nice balance of sweet, sour, and texture.

Summary

My initial rating had the plum cherry with the highest score for flavor — to my taste an improved cherry, though others consider it to be more like a plum — with the plumcot second. But while cleaning up the left overs, I noticed that the plum cherries lost some of their advantage when the slices were turned upside down — i.e. when the advantage of the crunchy exterior was removed. So, the strongest virtue of the new plum cherries is not any one characteristic, but the whole.

A few qualities were not measured by the blind taste test, but have to be mentioned. Plum cherries are almost exactly intermediate in size between plums and cherries. I’ve always considered cherries a bit annoying because of the effort to get a such a small amount of fruit off of a pit. On the other hand, plums are larger than I’d like. Plum cherries seem to be just about the perfect size. They also have perhaps the most pleasing appearance: a mottled burgundy with amber interior.

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A billiards-style view of Prunus

Goblin Market: How (Not) to Stop Groundhogs

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Illustration from Christina Rossetti’s poem “Goblin Market.” I see seven “goblins”: a snake, cat, owl, eagle, frog, mouse, … and groundhog.

I have a pretty good idea of how to get rid of groundhogs. Before I ever had a garden I had a neighbor. This neighbor had a garden, a bear trap, and a shovel. One day while I was playing outside, he yelled, with his deep northern Italian accent, “come over here and grab this shovel.” When I’d waded through the boundary hedge, I saw a groundhog in the bear trap. The little furball’s leg was shattered and he was screaming.

I was assured whacking the hog in the head was the only humane thing to do and I’d better hurry up.

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A young family of groundhog “goblins.” Without a telephoto lense I never get a good picture of them actually eating in the garden. Here they are eating grass.

 

In retrospect, I think there were better methods of dealing with groundhogs than the illegal electric fences and bear traps that my neighbors used in their small city plots. A metal wire fence buried a foot or two underground or a Have-a-Heart trap usually seems to do the trick.

But actually, I don’t mind the hogs at all. I think a garden without the romance of all sorts of insects and animals (except deer) is boring and sterile. Even if the list of items the hogs eat reads like a stanza from “Goblin Market” :

 

Lupines and liqourice-flavored anise,

fringed finocchio,

early juneberries and scarlet strawberries,

double coneflowers and lettuce,

pungent parsley, promiscuous mallow,

weedy tradescantia, summer phlox,

blazing star and low-hung pears,

ripe plumcotts and split figs.

 

Almost all of the other “goblins” from Christina Rossetti’s poem sometimes visit my garden too. But the groundhogs are the most amusing. Yesterday, one rolled around on his back like a cat and stood up when I called. He pushed aside some rose branches to get to his meal, without eating rose leaf or bud. Good way to stay out of a Have-a-Heart trap.

Check out the Rossetti poem for free at Project Gutenberg. Note: the groundhog-like animal in the illustration at top may not actually be a groundhog.

 

Dying Roses? They may just be going Offline From Rootstock

Despite their origins as 40-foot forest monsters, garden roses have a reputation for prissiness that’s gotten them blacklisted from many home gardens, and increasingly botanic gardens and arboreta — the last places where the public has a chance to really discover their dramatic landscape potential.

There are plenty of reasons roses may seem demanding. As an expert from an elite public garden recently told me half-seriously, they never like where they’re planted, they’re magnets for blackspot, powdery mildew, insect infestations, they’re expensive, and they require more specialized care than other plants. And, as I’ve learned over the years, not very many professional gardeners (or amateur) enjoy thorns, so roses are often neglected, compounding the other problems.

But one thing I never hear anyone talk about is the one to three year period when grafted roses go into severe decline. I would bet money that this decline confuses many or most would-be rose growers and causes them to give up.

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‘William Shakespeare 2000’. An outstanding variety that performed poorly for many years after the rootstock died. Three years later it suddenly grew into a robust beast. Well worth the wait. The fragrant, quartered blooms often have the perfection of florist’s flowers.

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Bunnies in the Garden

Statue of Brereton H. Bunny.

Statue of Brereton H. Bunny. I managed to put this bunny to work. But it doesn’t look like he is actually pushing anything in the wheelbarrow yet. OK, this picture is the whole point of the post.

Usually, bunnies are a garden pest, but I enjoy them so much I don’t care if they eat a few things here and there.  I like to think this is similar to the sentiment behind Robbie Burn’s most famous Scots poem. Continue reading

Rose ID Pet Theory

'Mme Isaac Periere,' 2013.

‘Mme Isaac Periere,’ 2013.

Nothing is as powerful a memory aid as scent. I can remember the day, a considerable time ago, when I saw Michaelangelo Antonioni’s film “L’avventura” not so much because I loved the film, but because I saw it the same day I got Guerlain’s “Habit Rouge” cologne. On the rare occassions when I bust that one out of the fridge, I also remember a film that I would otherwise have forgotten. Continue reading

Mother’s Day Parade of Roses

St. Swithun. If you ignore the leaves, this could be a picture of an alba, though the flower is larger. The rosette is ideal with a button eye, the scent strong myrrh, and the bush rampant and suitable for pegging or climbing within a year.

‘St. Swithun,’ May 12, 2013. If you ignore the leaves, this could be a picture of an alba, though the flower is larger. The rosette is ideal with a button eye, the scent strong myrrh, and the bush rampant, floriferous and suitable for pegging or climbing within a year. This was a chance find, but it is one that should be sought out if you don’t have it.

Not every rose cooperated with my wishes for mother’s day, but several did put out their first, or some of their first, blooms today. This will be my least verbose post — it’s a little parade of holiday roses. Continue reading

Darcy Bussell, An Inconsistent English Rose

Darcy Bussell, English rose

2013. Darcy Bussell, the English rose, showing its better side. This blossom has scented the kitchen for several days and still looks good, with a green button eye my picture doesn’t capture.

Darcy Bussell, the rose David Austin released in 2006 in honor of one of the world’s most noteworthy and personable ballerinas, acts more like a character from “Black Swan.” Continue reading