Time to Taste Plums, Gages, & Damsons, & Order Fruit Trees to Plant This Autumn!

This month I am celebrating some of our succulent, soft fruit superstars: plums, damsons, and greengages!  This closely related group of fruits require less pruning than apples and pears and offer a contrasting range of flavours: from deliciously sharp and tart damsons, sweet-tasting plums, and syrupy, honey-flavoured gages.  Greengages, damsons, and plums all have different flavours, but tastes also vary from one named variety to another.  Plus, there are a wider variety of plum cultivars available to choose from.

There are a a number of types of Mirabelle plums. These tiny fruits have an incredible sweet, honeyed taste. I put a 5-pence-piece-coin on the plate to accurately show you the size of these tiny fruits.

These delectable fruits are ripening now, so it’s the perfect time to enjoy a tasting session and discover new favourite varieties.  Visit farmers’ markets, farm shops, and ‘Pick Your Own’, to find fresh fruit to buy.  If you cannot access a farm, supermarket punnets often list the name of the variety on the packet; look for fruit grown in the UK, as these varieties will be more likely to be successful in our gardens.

Plums that are missing stalks won’t keep as long as fruits with their stalks intact – so eat these fruit first.

When harvesting damsons, plums, or gages, pick the fruit together with its stalk.  Fruit without stalks will not keep, so use these fruits first.  Fresh fruit tastes divine but plums, gages, and damsons all make super jams, jellies, and preserves.  Damsons can also be turned into damson cheese, wine, gin, brandy, chutney, and pickles.  If you’d rather freeze your fruit, remove the skins and de-stone prior to freezing.

Greengages are delicious! What could be more wonderful that having your own greengage tree in your garden?

Once you’ve found the names of your favourite varieties you can order trees.  I recommend pre-ordering bare root plants.  These trees are field grown; they’re lifted whilst dormant, ready for planting in late autumn and wintertime.

Greengages and plums require a bright and sunny, warm, sheltered position, away from strong winds, a South-facing aspect is ideal.  Plums and greengages also prosper when trained as a fan.  Damsons don’t require such a cosseted position; these fruit trees are more resilient and are happy growing in sunshine or partial shade.

Plums, damsons, and greengages favour slightly acid soils: pH 6 – 6.7 is ideal.  They require well-drained, yet moisture retentive soil and flourish on loamy clay soils.  Avoid planting gages, plums, or damsons on waterlogged soils.  If your soil tends to be waterlogged, create a raised bed or plant in large containers instead.  Damsons are the most tolerant of inclement weather and are more resilient in wetter conditions.

Fruit trees are usually grafted on rootstocks; choice is important as different rootstocks produce different sized trees. The smallest rootstock, ‘Pixy’ is semi-dwarfing but lacks vigour and resilience, producing demure trees that need optimal growing conditions for any chance of success. ‘VVA-1’ is a newer, dwarfing rootstock which shows promise, ‘Ferlenain’ is similar to ‘Pixy’, and WAVIT is semi-dwarfing, ‘St Julien A’ is semi-vigorous, as is Adaptabil, ‘Brompton’ is the most vigorous rootstock, it can produce a tree up to 6m (20ft) tall. I grew these plum and greengage trees at my allotment using pixy rootstocks. The trees failed in their second or third year, as I wasn’t able to water them enough in dry weather.
‘Opal’ plums look and taste very similar to ‘Victoria’ plums but ‘Opal’ ripen earlier.

I have yet to find a plum, gage, or damson that isn’t delicious.  I adore ‘Opal’ and ‘Victoria’ plums, and every ‘Mirabelle’ cultivar!

‘Cambridge Gage’ is a partially reliable, and quite vigorous greengage, with a deliciously sweet flavour.

If you can’t offer the optimum conditions needed for gages or plums, plant a damson, or try ‘Czar’, a delicious, plum that produces larger than usual blossom, followed by blue-black coloured plums.  ‘Czar’ can be grown in partially shaded gardens.

‘Farleigh Damson’ was discovered in Farleigh in Kent.  This is a heavy cropping variety, with a naturally compact habit.  All of the varieties I’ve mentioned in this article are self-fertile.

For more gardening advice for August, please click here.

To see all my plant pages and see pictures and advice to help you grow a wide range of fruit, vegetables, perennials, shrubs, houseplants, orchids, and trees, please click here.

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