By David Marks
What’s the difference between a plum and a gage? There is no set answer and everyone has their opinion. In general, gages are sweeter and more suitable for eating raw. They also tend to be smaller than plums but every rule is made to be broken. In truth, if it has “Gage” in its name then it’s a gage, if not then it’s probably a plum.
Cambridge Gage does fit most of the “gage” criteria, it’s small, has mainly green skin, is very juicy and tasty.
PARENTAGE OF THE CAMBRIDGE GAGE
Not known, it was a chance seedling which was first identified by Chivers (yes, the jam manufacturers) in the early 1920s.
APPEARANCE, TASTE AND CHARACTERISTICS OF THE CAMBRIDGE GAGE
The fruits are smaller than your average plum but that’s as expected for a Gage. The fruit colour is yellow / green, turning slightly more yellow and pink as it ripens, they have a definite bloom to the skin. The flesh is yellow / green and the stone comes away relatively easily. The taste is sweet and mellow though not amongst the best of the gages. The “Suffolk Traditional Orchard Group” fairly describe this variety as “….. lacks the luscious complex flavour of a really ripe Greengage.”
(picture courtesy National Archives)
This gage is not a vigorous grower and they are not one to recommend in adverse conditions. The soil they are planted in should be well drained and nutrient rich. They only really thrive in the UK in sunny areas and need full sun all of the day to crop well. They also take a year two longer than a plum tree to establish and begin bearing fruit.
Overall tree size is of course primarily dependant on the rootstock but also on the growing conditions. On average the following tree sizes by rootstock are for a fully grown tree after 7 years:
- St Julien A – unpruned height 3.5m / 11ft, pruned height 3m / 9ft
- VVA-1 – unpruned height 2.5m / 8ft, pruned height 2mm / 6ft
- Pixy – unpruned 2.5m / 8ft, pruned height 2mm / 6ft
Our advice, regarding rootstocks, for growing a Cambridge Gage plum tree in almost conditions would be the St Julien A rootstock. You’ll get a decent sized, relatively vigorous tree which won’t swamp the average garden. The more dwarfing rootstocks such as Pixy and VVA-1 are not really suitable in most UK gardens
Your tree should produce a small crop two to three years after it has been planted and will reach its full-cropping capability five years after planting.
PRUNING CAMBRIDGE GAGE TREES
All the normal rules for pruning plum trees can be ground on our page dedicated to this subject which can be found here. If you have an old or neglected Cambridge Gage tree then more information about pruning these trees can be found here.
Specifically for Cambridge Gage trees we would suggest that minimal pruning is the best approach in the first five years. Let the tree establish itself and build up strength in the branches. Prune out crossing and damaged branches but otherwise leave the tree alone. When the tree is well established prune as suggested in our article here but err on the side of minimal pruning.
PESTS, DISEASES OF CAMBRIDGE GAGE PLUM TREES
Cambridge Gage trees are susceptible to all the pests and diseases which attack plum and gage trees and for a comprehensive list of symptoms and cures see our plum tree pest and disease page.
It is unfortunate however that Cambridge Gages suffer more than most from bird damage especially finches which destroy the blossoms. The only solution which realistically deters birds is netting but this can be problematic. Netting a large gage tree is sometimes physically not possible. Additionally bird can become trapped under the netting causing them considerable distress.
POLLINATION PARTNERS FOR CAMBRIDGE GAGE TREES
Cambridge Gage trees (pollination group 3) are partially self-fertile and will produce a decent crop as a sole tree but they do better if a suitable pollination partner is nearby. Any of the following are suitable:
- Avalon – pollination group 2, partially self-fertile
- Belle de Louvain – pollination group 3, self-fertile
- Blue Tit – pollination group 4, self-fertile
- Coe’s Golden Drop – pollination group 2, self-sterile, needs another pollination partner
- Czar – pollination group 3, self-fertile
- Denniston’s Superb – pollination group 2, self-fertile
- Excalibur – pollination group 2, partially self-sterile
- Farleigh – pollination group 3, self-fertile
- Haganta – pollination group 3, partially self-fertile
- Herman – pollination group 2, self-fertile
- Jefferson – pollination group 2, self-sterile
- King Damson – pollination group 2, self-fertile
- Langley Bullace – pollination group 3, self-fertile
- Merryweather – pollination group 3, self-fertile
- Opal – pollination group 3, self-fertile
- Reine Claude de Bavay – pollination group 3, self-fertile
- Rivers Early Prolific – pollination group 2, partially self-fertile
- Sanctus Hubertus – pollination group 2, self-sterile, needs another pollination partner
- Shropshire Prune – pollination group 3, self-fertile
- Victoria – pollination group 3, self-fertile
- Warwickshire Drooper – pollination group 2, self-fertile
- Yellow Pershore – pollination group 2, self-fertile
BUYING A CAMBRIDGE GAGE TREE
This variety is not normally found in garden centres although in warmer parts of the south they may occasionally be offered for sale. It is readily available online from specialist fruit tree suppliers.
If you are buying online from a specialist supplier then we can recommend Orange Pippin who have a good selection of this variety on various rootstocks and in different forms.
SUMMARY CHARACTERISTICS OF CAMBRIDGE GAGE TREE
USE: Cooking and eating
SKIN COLOUR / TEXTURE: Green with yellow and pink flushes
FLESH COLOUR: Green / yellow
TASTE AND TEXTURE: Sweet and juicy
FRUIT SIZE: Small
TREE SIZE: Average
REGULARITY OF CROPPING: Crops well and regularly but takes a year or two to establish
POLLINATION: Partially self-fertile, does best with a pollination partner.
POLLINATION GROUP: 3
FULL NAME: Prunus domestica ‘Cambridge Gage’
AWARDS: Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit in 1998 reconfirmed in 2013
SPECIAL FEATURES: None
FLOWERING AND FRUITING TIMES: The average flowering time (optimum time for pollination) and date when fruits are ripe in the UK for the Cambridge Gage tree are set out below. If you have set your home town we can give you a more accurate estimate, if you have not set your home town (do it now by clicking here) the dates below will be the average for the UK.
Your town has not been set, the average main flowering time for your Cambridge Gage tree in the UK is the third week of April. Fruit will be ready for picking in the third week of August. Click here if you want to set the dates to your home town.
Flowering and fruit picking dates vary according to the weather in any particular growing season so the above dates may well change slightly from one year to the next. The flowering date above is when the plum tree produces the maximum number of blossoms, it will also produce blossom, although less, a week or two either side of the date given.