The Sequel – a second coming for the Tui NZ Fruit Garden

The first version to the left, the revised edition to the right.

The first version to the left, the revised edition to the right.

After due consideration, Mark's verdict was an emphatic thumbs down

After due consideration, Mark's verdict was an emphatic thumbs down

I am married to a patient and kind man but he has been looking ever more exasperated over the last two weeks. I put The Tui NZ Fruit Garden in front of him for comment because his experience with growing fruit and nuts is greater. As he dipped in and out of various chapters, he was finally moved to exclaim that he could not fathom why Tui, Tony Murrell and Rachel Vogan would put their names to this book and give it a credibility that it does not deserve.

If this seems slightly familiar to you, dear Reader, that is not a surprise. This book is the sequel – the revised edition, it tells us on the frontispiece (but not the cover). The first version was the subject of a piece I wrote this time last year, backed up by a lead story on the front page of our newspaper and picked up extensively by national media. There was a little problem with plagiarism by the author, Sally Cameron. Well, quite a big problem really – in fact an enormous one. The publishers, Penguin, pulled the book from sale immediately, mere days after it had been released. Nobody associated with the book ever commented on that withdrawal from sale so the general assumption was it had all died a natural death. No. Little did we know, they were preparing for a second coming. And here it is. It looks the same. The author is the same. The cover has been recycled. So is it the same?

I think the plagiarised sections have gone. I didn’t do an exhaustive analysis but I would guess that they have been quite thorough, given there are legal issues to be considered. But the plagiarism was only half the problem. In reviewing the original version, I was equally critical of the woeful lack of experience and knowledge by the author. And the rewrite has highlighted this even more. At least when the author was cutting and pasting information from the internet, she was generally getting it from credible sources even if they were from overseas. Now that it is in her own words, it often plumbs new depths. “A Chilean guava, pomegranate or feijoa bush can offer hedging that is just as effective as a Buxus.” Really? Shame the pomegranate is deciduous and if you clip your feijoa like you clip your buxus, you will be taking off all next year’s fruiting tips. Or, when writing about grapevines needing support: “This can be shaped or manipulated at leisure to provide a sculptured habitat for the vines to drape from.”

Even worse is the advice on protecting your grapes: “Broad pieces of netting with holes wide enough to let the sun in but keeping, bugs, diseases and birds out help let the fruit ripen nicely on the vine.” Leaving aside the description of broad pieces, since when has any netting kept out diseases and what fine grade of mesh would you need to keep out bugs? Wasps don’t even rate a mention but they are one of the biggest problems, in our experience. The sort of information that the reader needed and deserved to be told is that Albany Surprise is an excellent selection for marginal and humid conditions. Because it has a tougher skin, if you can net the birds out then the wasps can’t pierce the skin and get in to the fruit.

At least lychees, mangoes and pineapples have been consigned to a brief two page spread at the end of the book, under the title of “Fruit not commonly grown in New Zealand owing to climatic restrictions” but it is hard to understand why carambola or star fruit, which is equally marginal, remains with a four page spread of its own in the main body of the text. Maybe the author wanted to show off her recipe for pickled carambola? Proper cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpum) should have been grouped with the lychees and mangoes too. Equally hard to understand is why tomatoes are included in a book about fruit gardens. Yes, botanically they are a fruit but every home gardener and cook regards them as a vegetable and they are grown in the veg garden, not the orchard. Doing a cut and paste of the tomato chapter from the companion volume, the Tui NZ Vegetable Garden, could be described as having a bob each way but it is unnecessary padding in a book about growing fruit. Some of the other inclusions are odd – the medlar, introduced to this country by the early settlers, is a fairly decorative tree but not worth the space in the orchard as a fruiting tree. Given that you have to wait until the small fruit are nearly rotten before you eat them, why would you bother when we can grow apples and pears so well? Peanuts are a novelty crop grown in the vegetable garden and limited to the hottest and driest parts of the country. But don’t expect too much of that sort of information in this book. In most cases, the author lacks the experience to know what is important and to sift the information accordingly.

Take kiwifruit as an example. For starters, where can you grow them? According to this book, “The kiwifruit is an appropriate crop wherever citrus fruits, peaches and almonds are successful, though the leaves and flowers are more sensitive to cold than those of orange and peach trees.” Right. So this means kiwifruit need more warmth than citrus? But refer to the entry on almonds and it says: “Almonds happily grow in areas with warm summers and cool winters.” So I guess we are talking Hawkes Bay, Marlborough and Central Otago? Refer to peaches and it says: “… a long chilling time ensures a good fruiting crop in summer.” Even we became confused about where you can grow kiwifruit successfully but at least we know that it is a warm temperate to subtropical crop.

If you are a novice and you can deduce whether your area is suitable for growing kiwifruit, what you need to know is that it is a rampant vine and if you don’t prune it thoroughly every year, it will swamp your section and choke out everything else very quickly. The book does at least tell you that kiwifruit are not self fertile so you need both male and female though it fails to mention that only the female vine produces any fruit. I will quote the section on pruning verbatim, so readers can assess for themselves whether they would understand how to prune kiwifruit from this information (including the fact that male kiwifruit vines are pruned differently to female ones). “Pruning: After fruiting has finished, the vines should be pruned in late winter, before the spring warmth. Shoots from summer pruning will not be laden with fruit until the following year after dormancy. Male plants will yield more pollen in the spring if new shoots are pinched out to leave five to seven buds during the summer. Winter pruning renews the fruiting arms, enabling plants to fruit well each year.” Got that, have you? Now you know how to prune your kiwifruit?

Another burning question about kiwifruit which most people want to know is where to buy the new yellow cultivars. The fruit is illustrated but it doesn’t tell you that you can’t buy plants. Hort Research and Zespri, who own all the research on new cultivars, keep very tight control of plants and they are not available to the home gardener. But the book does recommend Cocktail Kiwi, an unproven novelty variety – a rampant grower which is distinctly shy on setting fruit and when it does come it is about half the size of your thumb.

Ever so modest but well thumbed. I can not think that the Tui NZ Fruit Garden will still be around in 40 years time.

Ever so modest but well thumbed. I can not think that the Tui NZ Fruit Garden will still be around in 40 years time.

Kiwifruit is just one example. The book is full of chapters which are similarly inadequate. But according to Penguin, “this book contains all the essential information you need” and “it will become the reference for gardeners of all skill levels….” We wish that were true. Had this been the first release of the Tui NZ Fruit Garden, Sally Cameron and Penguin Publishers might just have got away with it, marginal though it is. To have a second shot at the same book using the same author, it needed to be very good indeed. It isn’t. We will be keeping to our old tried and true modest volume called The Home Orchard, published by the NZ Department of Agriculture in 1973. It is not glossy or trendy but at least it is by people who knew what they were writing about and it only cost us $2.25 to buy at the time.

The Tui NZ Fruit Garden, by Sally Cameron with Rachel Vogan. (Penguin; ISBN: 978 0 14 356536 9).

For the earlier story on mark one of this book, click on The Tui NZ Fruit Garden – dear oh dear.

6 thoughts on “The Sequel – a second coming for the Tui NZ Fruit Garden

  1. Natasha

    Hi Abbie, can you please recommend something better than this book for someone wanting to start planting a home orchard? Your NZ Dept of Agriculture book looks great, but I suspect would be hard to come across!! Thanks :o)

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Well, not really in terms of recent publications and that is why it is such a pity that Penguin couldn’t come up with a better reference book. Try Touchwood Books who also deal in second hand books. We picked up a copy of Fruit Gardening in NZ by Ralph and John Ballinger (1981) from Touchwood last week – it is a good, basic alternative to the Dept of Ag book. These older references won’t help you with selecting more modern varieties of fruit, but they certainly cover the basics of orchard management and are very good on pruning, planting and individual requirements for different fruit types.

      1. dannyadair

        Thanks Abbie,
        Being a noobie faced with over a dozen different fruit trees on our recently acquired property, I went to the local library to have a look around and got some books out on fruit gardening. Being very old books I thought they might lack newer varieties, or even techniques or new products I could use to help our trees which do look like they have been neglected.
        Then a couple of weeks ago I saw this book (second edition I believe) at the post shop and got interested. Seemed like a good and modern starting point but of course I am unable to judge its quality or usefulness. Not remembering the exact title I googled for “sally cameron the tui nz fruit garden” and lo and behold your “dear oh dear” article was at the top of the search results. :-)

        I just ordered the two older books you mentioned from Touchwood, at $20 each plus $6 shipping they are almost exactly the same price.

        I’m very surprised by the status quo of available publications. I’ll make my first steps using these older references, and maybe same time next year someone has been able to fill the gap.

        Cheers,
        Danny

      2. Abbie Jury Post author

        Yes, there is a need for a good, modern reference which is why it is such a shame that Penguin and Tui couldn’t deliver, even on a second edition! I have heard of others interested in doing one – and people who are well placed to know what they are writing about – but very much in its infancy.

  2. Darren Gedye

    great article Abbie.
    I subscribe to a email newsletter from Tui.

    Since I have always composted my rhubarb leaves without problems I was surprised to see in the latest version claim that “You should not put the leaves of Rhubarb in the compost. They remain poisonous and can cause toxicity in the soil which will upset the soil balance if spread around plants.” (http://timesdigital.actualmail.com/p/603/69aa9ca619a6c36900c250495be0bcbd)

    I had a quick squizz on the internet and found several references that confirmed what I thought:

    What actually occurs when rhubarb is added to a compost pile is that the oxalic acid is mostly broken down, diluted and pH balanced rather quickly.
    http://www.rhubarbinfo.com/composting

    Although rhubarb leaves do contain poisonous oxalic acid, they can be placed in the compost pile. Oxalic acid, like other organic acids, is not readily absorbed by plant roots. Compost containing decomposed rhubarb leaves can be safely applied to the vegetable garden.
    Ask the ISU Experts
    http://www.extension.iastate.edu/news/2007/may/073001.htm

    Rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid, which is corrosive and a kidney toxin, but this has no significant effect on soil micro-organisms. The leaves will decompose perfectly well as the amount of oxalic acid is low and the molecule doesn’t survive well outside of the plant cells. Eating plants grown in rhubarb-leaf compost is also perfectly safe.
    http://sciencefocus.com/qa/why-cant-you-put-rhubarb-leaves-compost-heap

    I wonder who Tui use as their advisor for their newsletter?

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I shudder to think but we are getting increasingly tetchy with what we see as low grade and inaccurate advice being offered as expert opinion!

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