Country hedges have been full of fruit this year,
but where are the berries in our cities?
London-based urban gardener, Dan Combes, wonders why there aren't more berries in city centres...
Towns and cities of Britain, why aren't we cultivating more soft fruits?
Over the last the two weeks I have planted thousands of bulbs. But why (London, I'm talking to you especially) am I not planting soft fruits? It is the perfect time to put in berries and currants.
As I write our native flora is abound with fruit. I have never seen our hedgerows so stocked. Clusters of red fruits weigh down hawthorn branches. Rose hips wreath their way through the arms of blackthorn, with their sloes ready to bring the best out of gin.
And although the elderberries are long gone they deserve a mention. Often slightly sour, this year they were sweet enough to be eaten by the handful.
Big up the blackberry
That said, it is with blackberries (Rubus fruticosus) where my fruit loyalty really lies.
I remember very clearly when I first realised that the blackberry came from the bramble. The stark contrast between the pugnacious thorn and the juicy berry was so vivid in my young mind; I never imagined they were one and the same.
Blackberries bring back fond memories of
childhood for many of us
R. fruticosus agg is a deciduous shrub growing up to 3 metres tall. It is frost hardy, tolerates poor soil, and will fruit in partial shade.
The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by insects. The plant is self-fertile and most of the seed is produced by a non-sexual method (apomixis).
It is noted for attracting wildlife. The root-bark and leaves are said to make an excellent remedy for dysentery, diarrhoea, and haemorrhoids.
Archaeological evidence suggests that brambles have been harvested in Europe since at least 10,000 BC. No doubt the process of domestication started shortly thereafter.
Boysenberries were created by crossing
a raspberry and a loganberry
The Rubus genus contains hundreds of species including the raspberry (R. idaeus). Natural crosses and intentional hybrids have produced higher yielding plants, with a larger range of fruit flavours, and even done away with that thorn.
Perhaps you have heard of the vitamin C rich loganberry. Arising from a spontaneous cross between R. ursinus (American blackberry) and R. idaeus 'Red Antwerp'. In the early 19th century the Royal Navy preferred loganberries to limes for the prevention of scurvy.
In the late 1920s, Rudolph Boysen produced the boysenberry, a raspberry and loganberry cross.
And the Scottish-raised tayberry has a larger more conical fruit than the loganberry, up to 4cm of juicy sweetness.
Raspberries and the aforementioned hybrids are most productive when properly trained. Being relatively plastic they can be trained along well-tensioned steel wire to form neat fan shapes.
And they will just as happily be trained along a trellis screening your garden shed, allowing your children to mimic their hunter-gatherer ancestors!
Many of the gardens I work in in London have been designed for aesthetic reasons, rather than with the aim of food production, or creating wildlife sanctuaries. There are many good reasons for this.
It is common practice to train roses, clematis and other climbers across boundary walls. But why not plant some soft fruits between these?
It's all well and good buying soft fruits from the supermarket, but imagine them growing outside your door. Surely beauty is more enduring when it can be touched as well as tasted.