Garden designer Andrew Fisher Tomlin goes nuts over Christmas. In these days of grow your own there is nothing more appropriate at this time of year than to think about planting some nut trees in your garden. Do it this month and you'll have your own supply of Christmas nuts next year.
What must be the easiest to grow but little seen in the UK is the almond. The common almond Prunus dulcis is the tree that you need to pick. Coming originally from Iran it produces the sweetest nuts, especially after a hot summer. There is a bitter almond but that can be pretty dangerous as it contains cyanide which is removed before consumption. In California they produce so many almonds that they have the largest managed pollination event in the world, sometimes even importing Australian bees to help out but you should do alright with our own British bees and to bees on the safe side you can install a bee box.
Not a favourite of mine but probably the most extensively grown in the UK is the hazelnut. As I write this the cobnut season in Kent has just finished. These are the royalty of the hazelnut world but its quite easy to grow your own supply using the common hazel Corylus avellana. There are a number of special varieties used in commercial production and. If you can get your hands on one, I once tried the varieties "England" and "Kent Cob" which were far superior to the nuts you'll get from your local supermarket.
What is a favourite of mine though is Walnuts. Truly worth growing if only to save yourself money but especially because you can make your own pickled walnuts. The black walnut Juglans nigra is the best known but there are many other species to choose from. This tree may take up to 10 years to produce the first nuts so its worth getting ahead and planting a 2 or 3 year old tree and, if you're lucky, there won't be too much of a wait. A relative of mine got nuts from a 4 year old tree. What's really great about them is they don't mind wet summers and are also very hardy through droughts - recognise our summers here? To really benefit from a walnut tree I urge you to pickle the walnuts when they are green and fall off the tree. Wear marigolds though because they'll stain your hands for weeks afterwards. There is nothing better!
The one tree we can't grow here is the Brazil nut tree. Despite its name most of our Brazil nuts come from Bolivia. A very complicated pollination involving exotic flowers and bees leads to this iconic nut that has been threatened for many years now. The trees can grow to 45m and can be as old as a thousand years and the seeds or nuts are contained in large fruit up to 6 inches long. I hope you'll appreciate the trouble that farmers go to next time you open your Quality Street.
Although we can't have our own Brazils, there are lots of other nuts we can easily grow in our own gardens. So next time you are thinking about planting a tree, or growing some fruit, give a thought to the lonely nut trees and plant something for the future.