Every summer a mandatory expedition into the forest was held by my father. Our mission was to collect wild strawberries, bilberries and raspberries. Surely he called this enterprise an expedition to trick me. For me it was a dreadful nightmare in a hot and humid forest full of angry Russian mosquitoes, stingy nettles, sharp brambles and occasional poisonous snakes that scared me to death! I could have enjoyed my time with friends on the lake near our house, yet every weekend my dad, granddad and I went to gather berries armed with willow baskets and mosquito spray. And the baskets seemed to be so huge! I never learnt to like these trips but the love for berries has stayed with me. Since moving to the UK, I have dreamt about bringing a bit of wild Russian forest into my London garden.
I started with propagating wild (aka alpine) strawberries from seed. Seeds germinated fast and easy in the spring, but little seedlings were slow to develop and many of them died before they could see their first summer. By the end of July I had three healthy plants which surprisingly were enough to create an alpine strawberry plantation.
I love these little hard working plants, they always look cheerful and flower non-stop, even in winter! Berries are smaller than common garden strawberries but they are packed with flavour and fragrance. On a hot day a few freshly picked berries create incredible aroma in your hands!
Grower’s tip: sprinkle alpine strawberry seeds on the top of compost and don’t cover with soil as they need light to germinate. Bright windowsill will be perfect.
This year my garden is going through a big transformation and unfortunately it means that the wild blackberry hedge much loved by bees will be lost to make room for a tropical conservatory. My plan was to replace it with one or two raspberry canes but I had doubts. Large thorny bushes spreading in the middle of the lawn did not seem appealing. Luckily a couple of months ago I met with Lubera company at the Garden Press Event and discovered their exciting Moreberry range for small gardens. Moreberries are two fruit plants in one pot offering a colourful mix of berries, longer harvesting season and improved pollination. Bees don’t have to travel far at all!
Photo credit: Lubera
There are 8 different varieties to choose from including green & black blackcurrants, pink & blue blueberries, yellow & red gooseberries as well as some unusual edibles like Honeyberries and Pointilla. I have selected red Autumn Belle & apricot Autumn Amber raspberries. My partner likes “normal” red raspberries and I was keen to try “exotic” yellow ones but we didn’t have to compromise with both berries delivered in the same pot. I imagine berries looking pretty and colourful against the blue sky in August and September. Being small, thornless and easy to prune these raspberries are perfect for a patio, balcony or container garden.
I planted mine near new raised beds allocated for lettuce, spring onions, kohl rabi, radishes, beetroots and some Japanese, Mexican and Italian herbs. The idea is to have quick pickings of greens and berries from the mini orchard to prepare colourful salads in no-time!
Grower’s tip: When growing raspberries in containers, select a pot that has a volume of at least 30 litres for a good harvest.
My garden has acidic soil that is great for growing camellias, magnolias and rhododendrons but also blueberries, bilberries and cranberries. Bilberries spread widely in the Russian wilderness but have proved difficult to find in the UK. They have smaller and darker, almost black, berries with punchier taste than blueberries. Have you noticed how things you were used to in childhood are always more delicious!
Searching for bilberry substitute, I have settled on blueberries and cranberries. I have two lovely blueberry plants, Sunshine Blue and Patriot, full of gentle flowers in spring and berries in the summer. They have completely different characters. Sunshine Blue is low and crawling, with huge clusters of tiny deep blue & pink flowers, but don’t be fooled – berries are quite big. Patriot is proud and upright with large bell-shaped cream flowers but berries are smaller than Sunshine Blue. Blueberry Patriot was rescued from a skip while volunteering at RHS Hampton flower show and it holds dear memories of working on the build helping to create a wild garden for children. Very precious plant for me and I am relieved that the two beasts from the east we had in London didn’t damage it!
I am also growing cranberries Pilgrim or rather they are spreading everywhere on the pilgrimage across my garden. I planted them last spring under pines trees but quickly they became over flooded with nasty weeds like cinquefoil and bindweed. Creeping cinquefoil and crawling cranberries was impossible to bear and with pines trees now successfully dug out, I have moved my cranberries into containers. One plant only produces a few berries so you really need to root all the runners to be left with a decent harvest. Last season I collected a tiny amount from two plants which was about enough to make some aromatic jam. I am still scratching my head on the best way of growing them.
Have you tried growing berries in your garden or allotment? And what are your favourites? Have you discovered any productive varieties or dwarf plants suitable for small spaces? Share your thoughts in the comments below.