Playing Gooseberry can be fun

Perhaps it was tinned gooseberries that put many off this delicious fruit? For some reason, people tend to rate most other soft fruits like raspberries, strawberries or blackcurrants above the gorgeous gooseberry. Have a rethink. The breeders have been doing their stuff so that the two main issues to which gooseberries succumb, mildew and sawfly, are largely things of the past. They have also made the berries larger and sweeter, the branches less thorny with some even thornless, and yet sales of this traditional British fruit lag. In these anti-sugar days chefs have kidnapped the gooseberry from the jam and fool camp (however completely excellent and delicious they are there, especially with added elderflower), and now make robust relishes and sauces that add zing to duck, tang to mackerel and pizzazz to smoked fish cakes. Many varieties are now so naturally sweet when ripe that they can be eaten straight from the bush with no Tate and Lyle or Splenda in sight. But be warned that birds are also wise to this so please net your bushes or plant them in a fruit cage if you don't like sharing.

Gooseberry plants are hardy, resilient and ignore wind. They will adapt to cool and shady conditions and crucially are self-fertile so you only need one, although curiosity and greed would dictate that you have two varieties just to compare.  Each plant guarantees you pounds of produce after a couple of years (and I know we should be metric but kilos sounds off-putting...)

Usually, gooseberry plants have been relegated to the kitchen garden or the fruit cage, but they also look decorative in the main garden surrounded by flowering bulbs. This looks even better if they are grown to carry their branches a bit off the ground which leaves more room for under planted bulbs. The downside, of course, is that netting does not look good in a border, so you are sharing with the birds.

Some varieties respond well to being trained on wires. They can share the end of the raspberry wires if you have some. Training helps to sweeten and ripen the fruit, especially further North and makes picking easier because you can avoid any thorns. As with most fruit, gooseberries prefer a good rich soil, so dig in some manure when you plant them but first, you need to choose which type appeals to you.

The oldest fashioned and earliest variety is the green Invicta. It is bombproof, the best for training along a wall or on wires and the berries ripen towards the end of May and keep their shape when cooked. It does have serious thorns though.

Invicta Invicta
Xenia Xenia

 

Hinnomaki like Invicta, is mildew resistant with sweet, and large yellow fruits in late June with an excellent taste when ripe and raw.

Xenia is the baby of the collection having been bred recently in Switzerland where they love gooseberries (no references to cuckoo clocks please). Xenia crops in late June with huge fruit that are red when ripe. There are relatively few thorns and it can be used for both cooking and eating raw.

Captivator is the choice for the thorn-phobic because they are miraculously soft in this instance. The fruits are deep red and are ready in July.

Pax is the final variety, again with luscious red fruit that trains on wires well. It crops in mid-June.

Gooseberry plants are simple to look after, generous with their bounty look pretty and are inexpensive. As a starter plant for a novice grow-you-own person or as an addition to a well-stocked kitchen garden they have few competitors.  Our gooseberries can be ordered now for delivery, freshly lifted, in the next few weeks.

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