Fruit trees are perfect for London’s outdoor spaces. They do not have to be tall, they can come in surprisingly small packages, and now is a great time to plant one.

The secret is to choose a manageable size. It will make it easier to pick the fruit, too, with no ladders or climbing required.

London has a rich history of orchards, which is how Plumstead and Perivale — meaning “pear tree valley” — got their names, and you can still find old fruit trees in gardens that are the remnants of some of the city’s market gardens.

As they die, however, they are rarely replaced. It’s a great shame. They are perfect for modest gardens and nothing beats eating a ripe, freshly picked apple or plum from your own backyard, with no air miles and no plastic involved.

Plant one of these small fruit trees straight into your lawn or flowerbed and it will give you blossom in spring, fruit in autumn and somewhere for the birds to perch in winter.

If you have a bit of room at the bottom of the garden you could even plant a mini orchard, with two apples and a plum, for example, each tree reaching no more than about six feet tall.

If space is really tight, buy a “2D” trained tree and plant it against a sunny wall or fence.

These trained specimens come in beautiful shapes, from espaliers to fans and cordons that look like acute accents, and they take up no ground space at all.

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Dreamy: set the table in the shade of an apple tree for a lazy summer lunch alfresco (Marianne Majerus)

Figs, plums, apricots and peaches make fabulous fans, apple and pears great espaliers and cordons.

Or plant a row of “stepover” apples, like low handrails, around a seating area or vegetable patch.

They will also give your garden the instant cultivated style of a French potager or Victorian walled garden which doesn’t hurt.

And if you have no soil to plant into at all, any fruit tree can grow in a tub as long as it’s at least 50cm wide.

Best fruit trees for Londoners

The “urban heat island” effect makes the city ideal for ripening apricots and figs. Cherries are great and have pretty blossom, though if you want to eat the fruit you’ll have to net it to protect it from birds, and what Londoner wants to look out on a tree covered in plastic?

Pears can be a little tricky, but plums are irresistible. Try Victoria or Czar for a shadier spot.

Apples are probably the best fruit tree for a really small city garden, says Hamid Habibi, nursery manager at fruit tree specialists Keepers Nursery, since they stay small, crop well and are easy to grow.

Like most fruit trees, apples are made of two different species grafted together. The top part determines the variety that you get and the bit below the ground, called the rootstock, determines how big the tree will grow.

Look for a fruit tree on a dwarfing rootstock and you can’t go wrong. If you don’t want your apple tree to grow bigger than six feet or so, get one on M27 rootstock.

If you can fit in double that, go for M1106 and if you want a big tree to sling a swing from, go for one on M25.

How to choose a variety

In London there are likely to be other apple or crab apple trees nearby and this means pollination shouldn’t be a problem so you’ll get a good crop. But if you want to be on the safe side, says, Habibi, grow a self-fertile variety such as Sunset, Red Windsor or Fiesta.

“A lot of people say they want to grow a Braeburn,” he says.

“But they’re available 365 days a year and those supermarket varieties aren’t always easy to grow. Plant something that isn’t commercially grown, that’s easy and a bit different.”

So if you like the sweet crispness of Gala, he says, try Rajka. If you prefer the tartness of Granny Smiths, Topaz would be a good bet. Braeburn lovers will love Red Falstaff.

Where to buy fruit trees

Keepers nursery: keepers-nursery.co.uk

Blackmoor nurseries: blackmoor.co.uk

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