Forest Garden Favourite: Merton's Pride, the juiciest of pears

Maddy Harland
Wednesday, 27th April 2011

Continuing the series about the best trees to plant in a forest garden or orchard, Maddy introduces Merton's Pride, a pear so succulent it is a temperate equivalent to a ripe mango.

We have three traditional pear trees in our forest garden but only one stands out, Merton's Pride. Flowering after the Asian Pear and the Cherry Plum as Springtime become firmly established, its blossom is incomparably delicate and is a riot of bees. One year I was so taken by the vigour and beauty of the tree's blossom that I made a flower remedy in the tradition of Dr Edward Bach, early one sunny morning. The bottle remains under my bed to this day. I give little samples to my friends from time to time but I have no idea what effect it has. I suspect it is a carrier of happiness and well being. My life has certainly been abundant since I made it.

Merton's Pride does everything a good fruit tree should do: It cheers the heart after a hard winter with its blossom; attracts insects into the garden to pollinate the other less vigorous fruit trees; it fruits every year (although we find we have high bi-annual crops, the second year being more modest becasue the tree rests a little). It is also healthy with no hint of scab on the fruit or any other diseases and it has withstood the test of establishing in a chalky field with little topsoil in 1993-4. Given that, I assume it would be happy in most soils.

Its glory though is its fruit: big, juicy pears that taste divine. They are often as large as my hand and most succulently sweet beyond imagination. We eat them ripe fresh from the tree, ocassionally juice them but rarely bother to cook them. They are just too good to heat. Ripe, they have a pleasant texture, not too grainy or dry and never too crisp but it is the juice that delights. Be careful when you eat them ripe – you can be covered in sweet, sticky liquid!

Being juicy, this fruit does not store well so keep an eye on the tree and harvest every day. Once the fall they bruise easily and the wasps will quickly find them. If you have too many, find an organic café as an outlet or a smoothy bar or freeze the juice for leaner times.

A useful book for planning and planting a forest garden and selecting tried and tested fruit trees is Patrick Whiteifled's classic, How To Make a Forest Garden.

Maddy Harland is the editor of Permaculture Magazine International and the author of Fertile Edges: Regenerating Land, Culture & Hope and The Biotime Log.