A ripe pear has slippery, silky flesh with honeyed juices that coat your fingers and dribble down your chin. The sweetness is intense but not cloying and the irreducible pear-ness of it deeply satisfying.
The chances of buying a pear like this are remote, so the best place to get one is in your garden. There are more than 3,000 cultivars, but some stand out as being both delicious and well suited to a British climate.
I grow ‘Doyenne du Comice’, ‘Williams’ Bon Chrétien’, ‘Conference’, ‘Beth’ and ‘Concorde’. I’m planning to plant ‘Jargonelle’, which is a very early pear, and also the cooking pear ‘Catillac’.
Monty Don shared his tips for growing the perfect fruits and how to help fight off problems in the winter months. Pictured: Monty at the mound with Espalier fruit pear trees
The varieties are placed in groups according to when they flower. To get fruit, you’ll need trees from the same or adjacent groups, so that their periods of flowering will overlap and they will pollinate each other.
There are only four groups of pear, and the chances of accidental pollination from another tree in the vicinity are quite high. ‘Conference’, ‘Williams’ Bon Chrétien’, ‘Concorde’ and ‘Beth’ are in group three and ‘Doyenne du Comice’ is in group four.
I give my espalier pears a summer prune in July, removing at least two-thirds of new growth. This stops the tree from putting all its energy into getting bigger at the expense of bearing fruit.
Q. Why do some of my tomatoes have black patches?
Mrs Driscoll, London
A. This sounds like blossom end rot – erratic watering resulting in the plant failing to absorb calcium.
Tomatoes like steady treatment – steady heat, light, water and feed – and if the weather becomes exceptionally hot or cold you need to adjust accordingly.
Q. After blossoming, our wild rose is now covered in small orange hips. Do we cut the hips off to get more blossom next summer?
J Richardson, Hampshire
A. Goodness, no! The hips are the fruit of the flowers and have no bearing on next year’s flowering.
I recommend leaving the rose unpruned, other than any essential tidying. The birds will enjoy eating the hips too.
Q. How can I encourage strawberry plants to throw out runners?
Peter Harvey, Kent
A. This is best done from one-year-old plants. Use the runner (a shoot from the main plant that will become a new plant) nearest to the parent.
This will result in the healthiest new plants. Compost old plants every three or four years, replace with new ones and plant as soon as possible in a different bed to ensure the soil stays disease-free.
Then, next September, take runners from these new plants and continue the cycle.
Winter pruning, done after the last leaf has fallen, should be to remove any damaged or crossing branches and to shape or tie in any espalier, cordon or fan-trained trees.
Although pears are tough trees, the fruit needs sun to ripen. All my trees, and I have about 30, are afflicted to some degree with brown rot, canker and scab.
Although this is clearly not desirable, I still harvest scores of excellent fruit from them every year.
Brown rot is a fungus called Monilinia laxa and it manifests itself with unbroken brown areas on the skin.
It needs an entry point into the fruit – caused by a crack, a bird or insect. You can reduce the spread by removing any fruit that are showing signs of it.
Scab (Venturia pyrina) is another fungal problem, which causes brown areas on the fruits and leaves that are typically accompanied by deep cracks and fissures.
In a good year, this looks unsightly but does not seriously damage the fruit other than reducing their keeping quality, but in a bad year the leaves can fall and the fruits drop prematurely.
Prune your pears so that there is plenty of space between the branches, always cutting back to healthy wood and burning any traces of scab.
Canker is caused by the fungus Nectria galligena, which circles a stem, causing it to crack and die back. Again, cut back and burn any affected stems.
Harvest pears by carefully lifting the fruit until it is horizontal – if it does not come away in your hand, it is not ready.
At this point it is still not ripe and should be stored in a cool, dark and preferably rather moist place to ripen.
Check by carefully pressing at the flesh around the stalk. Pears ripen from the inside out, so the flesh immediately beneath the skin is the last to be ready.
Never bite into a pear like you would an apple. Sit. Get a clean plate and a beautiful knife. Cut it into quarters, peel it (not for your health but because the tough skin detracts from the perfect texture), slither the core away and eat the firm juiciness, surrendering completely to the moment.
MONTY’S PLANT OF THE WEEK: CLEMATIS REHDERIANA
Monty chose clematic rehderiana as this week’s plant, revealing it originated in China and was brought to this country in 1908
One of the last clematis to flower, this is now a mass of primrose yellow bells in my own garden.
It is very vigorous and is ideal for growing into a large tree – I have one growing up an apple tree that is now nearly 30 years old but still the clematis reached the very top.
The little bonnet-shaped flowers with upturned sepals are scented and add to the pleasure of sitting beneath the cloud of bloom savouring some autumnal sunshine.
It originated in China and was brought to this country in 1908 by the famous plant hunter Ernest Wilson.
THIS WEEK’S JOB: PRUNE SHRUB ROSES
To prevent root damage, Monty recommends keen gardeners cut back around a third to half of shrub roses with a pair of shears
Cut back by about a third to half with a pair of shears, leaving a neatly domed bush.
This will prevent root damage from wind rocking long branches and possible snow damage.
Next March, just take out any damaged, very old or rubbing branches.