It’s not only the wonderful flavor of just-picked, sun-warmed berries, or the fact that they are pricey at the markets, or that picking berries is a favorite treat for visiting grandchildren, but also the childhood memories of putting on long pants and long sleeves to thwart mosquitoes and chiggers, gathering a collection of buckets, packing a jelly sandwich, and making the long trek across the road, through the field, to the banks of Paw Paw Creek where the wild raspberries grew in abundance. It was the only time we kids were allowed to venture that far from the house on our own, so it was an adventure. Often, I went with my cousins, who lived on the adjoining farm. We would spend a long afternoon picking black raspberries, eating our fill and then carrying the heavy buckets back to the house. It was more fun than work, and we knew the more berries we picked, the more black raspberry pies we’d have for family gatherings. Mother would put the buckets in a cool place, and early the next morning, we’d begin canning the berries or turning them into jelly. I want to have enough berries to make pies and jelly again, but I don’t necessarily need that trek to the creek.
In addition to blackberries, and black and red raspberries, I love gooseberries and elderberries, and generally one can’t even find them even at the farmers markets. Rhubarb has also become very expensive. So, I’m planting lots of small fruits in and near the potager. However, exactly where each fruit will go has been under debate. Berries are space-grabbers, often sending underground shoots that pop up in paths or neighboring beds. Some require trellises or fences, so their placement deserves careful consideration.
Rosemary Verey advised “the berries must be grown elsewhere, as the necessary protective netting takes away from the potager’s aesthetic.” That’s a valid point, because netting has to be on over a long period, in order to keep the deer from eating the plants and the birds, raccoons, and opossums from eating the berries.
If I were rich, or wanted smaller quantities, I’d build a separate berry barn, as they do in Europe. It looks like an ordinary small barn framework, but without solid siding or a roof. Instead, it’s covered with wire mesh or hardware cloth. (Chicken wire still allows some birds and small rodents to enter and eat.) The photo above is Kylee Baumlee’s (author of “Our Little Acre” blog) berry barn. I love it, but that’s not an option since I want LOTS of plants, so I plan to put my berries in rows between the potager and the woods, where a mower can deal with unwanted sprouts and shoots. The deer will be a problem, so I will have to purchase additional netting, but having those luscious berries will be worth the trouble.
A few years ago, I carried “Latham” black raspberries at the farm. They were in gallon pots, beautiful, and they all sold quickly except a final pot, which sat in a corner and was rather neglected for several weeks after our season ended. When I began moving leftover plants into the coldframe to overwinter, the black raspberry had rooted into the ground. I pulled it up with a good deal of effort, for a few canes had touched ground and rooted as well. I potted them up and intended to plant them in a better location. Still, the next spring, there appeared another small patch of raspberry plants. Obviously, I missed digging out some roots. Now, I know exactly where they will go.
Several years ago, I planted thornless blackberries along a split-rail fence at the back of the Cook’s Garden at the farm. The first variety was “Chester.” The berries were big and plump, but they didn’t have the flavor I wanted and they didn’t hold up well if it rained, or if you wanted to keep them fresh for a day or two. So, I added “Navajo” and “Triple Crown” both of which are reputed to be hardier and very productive, with good flavor and texture. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep them labeled. Over the years, the “Chester” died out, and a couple reverted to their thorny genealogical lineage. I’ve learned that blackberries are very easy to propagate, in fact they send shoots underground, so over the past years new plants have popped up readily in places where they aren’t wanted….the strawberry bed, in several of the raised beds, and even in the landscape cloth-covered paths, so I had plenty of plants to move from the farm. They were the first berry row planted, shown below on the right. On the left is the beginning of the black raspberry row.
The spacing between the rows was determined by the lawn mower. I marked a line, and had David mow while I observed and measured exactly how far the mower spewed the clippings. I don’t want weed or grass seeds blown onto my rows. Even at his lowest speed, twelve feet was the least distance, so I’m planting my rows fifteen feet apart. I put down a layer of cardboard between and around each plant, and added a heavy layer of mulch. When we finally get a good soaking rain, I will add fence posts and horizontal wires to support the canes.
I want red raspberries, too. I always intended to plant some at the farm, but they always sold before I pulled some pots for myself, so I’ll have to order plants. My favorite supplier is Hartmann’s in Michigan, a great family-run business that specializes in a huge variety of blueberries, but offers several other berries and small fruits, too. Since I have the space, I plan to have a row of summer-bearing reds, probably “Encore” or “Boyne,” and a row of fall-bearing cultivars, perhaps “Autumn Britten” for its productiveness or “Caroline,” which is touted as the tastiest of all red raspberries, or “Jaclyn” for its disease resistance. Maybe I’ll plant some of each!
I’ve kept my four Brazzleberry “Raspberry Shortcake” in large pots, because they are dwarf, bred for container growing on a deck or patio. These berries will actually be a focal point in the potager in large olive-green ceramic pots.
And, of course I have to have gooseberries. I had two beautiful mature, bearing plants in the Cook’s Garden, but it would be too difficult to move them. Fortunately, I did keep two plants of both “Pixwell” and “Black Velvet” in gallon pots and they were planted at the far (north) end of the blackberry row.
I’ve seen gooseberry shrubs clipped as a standard, so I picked the one that was shaped best for that purpose (a tall single stem before it branched) to use as a focal point and add some height (someday…it’s still a baby now) in the potager. Rosemary Verey had them in her potager, so it must be proper.
Two beds of Honeoye June-bearing strawberries were actually the first crop I planted within the potager, placing them in the back. Face it, there are times when strawberry plants will not be exactly beautiful, so I don’t want them in prime viewing locations (near entrances or major intersections or corners.)
Rhubarb “Canadian Red” will be planted along the fence inside the potager. I left all my established plants at the farm for the new owners, so I’ll be ordering new ones from Berbee.
The three elders were planted at the north end of the black raspberry row, since they will get tall. There are two hybrids, “Johns” and “Korsor” and a third plant that lost its label, but may be a common.
I’m excited at the prospect of a bountiful berry crop in years to come. Are there fruits that you grow that I’ve forgotten? I’d love to add some espaliered apple and pear trees inside the fence. Is there a variety that is especially successful for you? I’d love to hear your comments.