With a Cherry on Top


Cherries are nature’s dessert: round, sweet and divine, eaten fresh from the tree or enjoyed in delectable summer cocktails and desserts.


When it comes to cherries, I don’t have a stop button; I could eat a whole bowlful and still be left wanting more.


Cherries are nature’s dessert: round, sweet and divine, eaten fresh from the tree or enjoyed in cheesecakes, pies, puddings, sauces and delectable summer cocktails and desserts.


Among fruiting trees, sweet cherries (Prunus avium) rate highly in the looks department with their pretty, serrated dark-green foliage, attractive reddish-brown bark, gorgeous spring blossoms and vibrant autumn foliage colour in all the sunset tones.


All that, plus you get the bonus of a delicious crop of summer fruit jam-packed with healthy antioxidants.


Cherry picking

Most trees grow to around 4m tall and 3m wide, so they make a lovely addition to urban backyard orchards and smaller gardens.


Early orchardists grew rows of ‘Burgsdorf’, the colonial cherry, and for good reason: it’s one of the earliest varieties to fruit and produces deep-red cherries with wonderful flavour.


You’ll also love the heritage ‘Bedford’ cherry tree, dripping with clusters of big, sweet near-black fruit. ‘Simone’ is another poster girl for large, black heart-shaped cherries.


‘Stella’ is the quintessential cherry, with generous, heart-shaped, deep-red fruit and flesh that’s sweet and juicy. A self-fertile variety, it’s a great choice for gardens where space is limited because you only need one tree to produce a good crop of midseason fruit.


‘Starkrimson’ is another good self-fertile type that produces regular, bountiful crops in cooler climates. It displays large, crimson, red-mahogany fruit mid-season that’s divine eaten fresh, preserved or made into decadent cherry jam.


‘Sunburst’ also enjoys a good winter chill, with extra-large red to dark-red fruit and flesh.


Plant ‘Lapins’ in your home orchard and you’ll have cherries well past Christmas. It’s a late-fruiting variety with large clusters of round to heart-shaped fruit which, picked when it’s dark red-mahogany in colour, has a sweet flavour that will knock your socks off. The fruit has some rain-split resistance, so it’s a good choice for areas with higher summer rainfall.


‘Bing’ is another late-fruiting star to extend your harvest, with delicious, heart-shaped, ruby-red flesh and lustrous dark-red skin, but it can be prone to rain cracking.


Among the relative newcomers, ‘Royal Rainier’ is worth looking out for. The crop is both pretty and tasty, with yellow-white cherries that blush red when kissed by the sun. This white-fleshed variety is wonderfully sweet but it does need a pollinating partner like ‘Stella’ to really shine.


City and courtyard gardeners will be seduced by the Trixzie range of miniature fruiting cherries, which grow to just 2.5m tall and wide but still produce a good crop of full-sized fruit.


Among them, look out for ‘White Cherree’, with sweet yellow-white cherries blushed with red, or ‘Black Cherree’ with rounded to heart-shaped deep-red fruit that’s ready to be harvested mid-season.


The Morello cherry (Prunus cerasus) is too sour to pick and eat straight from the tree, but its tart flavour is perfect for cooking. Try it in cakes, pies and jams or in a cheeky batch of homemade sour cherry liqueur.



Most cherry varieties perform best with a winter chill, so they really shine in cooler climates. However, there are cultivars with a lower chill requirement.


In areas with high summer rainfall, fruit can be prone to cracking, so look out for types that are more split-resistant. Heavy rain when the tree is in blossom may also affect crops through reduced bee activity.


Cherries prefer to be grown in soils with a pH of about 6.5. But a sunny spot and good drainage are key, so dig in lots of compost before planting and top-dress with organic matter each spring.


Some cherries are self-fertile, while others aren’t, so always check the plant label to see if another compatible tree is required to produce a good crop. And if you want a bountiful crop, bring in the bees with bee-attracting flowers and herbs like borage, lavender, thyme and sage.



For cherrylicious flavour, pick the fruit when it’s plump, ripe, shiny and fully coloured — and always leave the stem attached so the fruit will keep for longer.



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Cherry label

Common name: Cherry, black cherry

Botanical name: Prunus avium

Family: Rosaceae

Aspect and soil: Sun; moist soil

Best climate: Cool

Habit: Deciduous tree 3–10m+ tall, fruits late spring to summer

Propagation: Grafted as bared-rooted or potted plants

Difficulty: Difficult