Grow Your Own – Berries

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.

Wild strawberries, London Garden Blog

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!
Lubera raspberries, London Garden Blog

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.
London Plantology
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!

Sunshine Blue blueberries, London Garden BlogSearching 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.

11 Replies to “Grow Your Own – Berries”

  1. We have gooseberries, blackcurrant, redcurrants, and raspberries. The raspberry canes were new last year, but did not grow much or produce any fruit (well, one) because I mulched with spent mushroom compost which is too limey. As you say they prefer acidic soil. I had to dig them up, make a new home for each cane, replace the soil and replant them all. This year I have mulched with ericacious compost. They mostly seem to be growing well this year, so hopefully i get some fruit!

    1. I didn’t know about acidic soil for raspberries! Thought only blueberry and cranberry plants like it. Good to know! Fingers crossed for a good harvest this year!

  2. I’ve got some raspberries growing in a huge pot to contain their spreading. I’ve been quite lucky with getting fabulous crops off them & ive put it down to being in a nice sunny spot & I watered it well. This year it’s had a mulch in early spring & the new growth on it looks promising already. You sound like you will have a fabulous pick & mix to choose from once they have fruited 😉

    1. Sounds great, Nichola! It is encouraging that even in the pot raspberries produce a good harvest! Looking forward to taste them now! I hope they are as delicious as Russian ones or even better! 🙂

  3. As you know I grow Hinnonmaki (red) gooseberries. They’re sweet enough to eat straight from the plant, unlike the green gooseberries which taste more sour. I planted the first one out into the soil and the second into a pot. Last year, lots of rain, so both flourished. Obviously more fruit from the older bush; I’m trying to train the pot bush into a standard but still had stems full of berries! (Grower’s tip :)) I bought mine as tiny twigs from Morrisons for £2 each! I now have four plants, three in pots.) Good idea to grow raspberries in pots if you don’t want new plants popping up all over the place next spring. xx

    1. I have those, too 🙂 My plants were marked down at the garden centre late in the season, and were covered in fruit. So they were a good buy!

      1. Hi Caro and Emma, Seems like I will have to find some Red Hinnonmaki gooseberries now! 🙂 Good to know that they could be grown in the containers. Definitely want to give them a go!

  4. I’ve never lived in a garden with acid soil, which meant I always struggled to grow blueberries and cranberries (etc). They’re never quite as happy in pots, and they really need watering with rain water, which isn’t always available. In the new garden I have solved the problem by filling one of my raised beds with ericaceous soil. Happy blueberries, and wintergreen (my other half loves the flavour!). We have lots of other berries, too, they’re great!

    1. Sounds exciting, Emma! What are other berries are you growing? And any advice on wintergreens? I tried to grow some this winter in my clay soil but they didn’t like it! Will try again in the raised beds. I have a water butt which is very useful – lots of rain water not only for blueberries and cranberries but for houseplants as well.

      1. Lots of berries! I’ve got balloonberries, Japanese wineberries, wild and alpine strawberries, a salmonberry…. I bought the wintergreen as ornamental plants (they’re not particularly easy to source as edibles in this country), and popped them in with the blueberries and they’re doing really well 🙂

        1. Amazing Emma! I have never heard about balloonberries, salmonberries and wintergreen! Will do my research! 🙂

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