A Forest Garden Exotic That's Tough Too: The Asian or Nashi pear, Pyrus pyrifolia

Maddy Harland
Wednesday, 6th April 2011

Planting trees in your garden this season? Maddy describe the Nashi or Asian Pear, a favourite in her forest garden.

I worry about planting extotic sounding fruit trees in the forest garden. Our chalky soil and variable English climate has put paid to early experiments with freestanding peach, nectarine, and almonds which were billed by nurseries to be hardy for the south of England. With nearly 80 fruit and nut trees we cannot nurse the delicate and temperamental and our trees have to produce or they go.

Not so the Asian or Nashi pear, Pyrus pyrifolia. This is a pear tree species native to China, Japan, and Korea. It blooms in April and, like the Prunus myrobalan that blooms a week earlier, bees and other beneficial insects like it. The flowers are snowy white  and it unsurprisingly has an oriental habit, spreading itself outwards and low to the ground. I am reminded of Chinese paintings on porcelain and screens. This is another tree to lift the spirits in early Spring.

Its real advantage is that it is unfussy. This little tree, planted 18 years ago, has no rootstock and is no more than four foot high, although its spread is bigger. It has required an absolute minimum of pruning. We have allowed its natural shape to form over the years. It has had a little mulch and feeding in its early days (mainly SM3 - seaweed spray) to get established and then has been left to its own devices. The only reason it is mulched now is because we have sown the ground around it in a polyculture of heritage Austrian vegetable and salad seeds, given to us by Sepp Holzer. We mulched with cardboard and straw last year and then sowed seed this Spring. Sepp advised us to put a thin layer of mulch on top to create a microclimate and let nature get on with it. We'll let you know what grows!

The fruits of Asian or Nashi pear, Pyrus pyrifolia are prolific. Like many trees, one year is bumper and the next less so but this little tree is an excellent cropper even in alternate years. On the good cropping years I have to thin the fruit or the branches will break but that is all I have to do.

The fruit itself is eaten fresh. We don't bake it in crumbles much. It is high in water content and best eaten when it has a fragrant smell. If you want to taste before you plant you can buy it in upmarket supermarkets (like Waitrose in the UK) or Asian shops. The texture is crisp and grainy and only the shape is reminiscent of an apple. This fruit really tastes of pear. Chinese people consider it a delicacy and give it to each other as gifts. It bruises easily so wrap it carefully and it goes mealy after a while so give it away fresh when the aroma is at its best. My Chinese friends love it and my gifts of fruit are very popular in September.

I would imagine this tree, because it is relatively unusual and also a prolific cropper, would also make a good cash crop.

So if you have a small garden and want an edible yet ornamental pear that is unfussy and won't take up too much space, the Asian or Nashi pear, Pyrus pyrifolia is definitely one to consider. A good tree for novice fruit growers as it needs little care, and a great tree for the sunny side of any forest garden, large or small.

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