A summer full of berries – gardening tips and recipes from the National Trust
As the summer sunshine shimmers above the garden, there is something ever so nostalgic about picking fruits in the summer warmth. Summer berries are some of the easiest fruits to grow and can be divided into two groups, cane fruit, and bush fruit. Cane fruit includes raspberries and bush fruit include blueberries and gooseberries. Both require very little attention, produce masses of fruit each year that can be transformed into delicious summer desserts and recipes. Rebecca Janaway, National Trust Development Chef added, “Using fresh seasonal produce is at the heart of what we serve in our cafés and picking the produce that we have available from the places in our care, such as from the gardens, is often the first task of the day for many of our food and beverage teams.”
So far this year, our garden teams have reported bumper fruit crops. From the humble gooseberry or ‘goosegog’ spotted at Shugborough Estate in Staffordshire and strawberries at Calke Abbey in Derbyshire, it appears as though fruit has been an unexpected beneficiary of the lockdown.
The combination of a wet winter and sunny spring has been ideal. Since places started to reopen, our gardening teams have been busy caring for the gardens and harvesting the bumper crops where they can.
Gardening beginners may assume that the only way to grow fruit is in a large orchard or garden and that it can take years to harvest the fruits of your labour. This is not the case with soft fruit (such as strawberries, currants or gooseberries) which can easily be grown in smaller spaces and provide bountiful results.
Kate Nicoll, National Trust Gardens Training Specialist commented, “The UK climate is perfect for growing a huge range of soft fruits, all of which are full of healthy vitamins, minerals and natural sweetness. Many of them grow well in a small garden, allowing for keen gardeners to have a go at growing their own.”
Strawberries are extremely easy to grow, and even just a few plants can provide a plentiful supply of sweet succulent fruits through the summer months. If chosen carefully, varieties such as the early ‘Elvira’, ‘Cambridge Favourite’ or ‘Florence’- will provide plenty of fruit from June through to September.
Some will even repeat fruit, these are known as ‘perpetual’ forms’ and are likely to be more closely related to the wild strawberry that can be found in many gardens and parks across the UK. Even though wild strawberries are often smaller than planted varieties, they are packed full of flavour and are a firm favourite for keen bakers and jam-makers.
Strawberries grow well in all types of containers, whether specially designed strawberry pots, grow bags, hanging baskets, troughs and tubs or even something more creative and adaptable, such as galvanised guttering. Healthy productive strawberry plants are sadly difficult to achieve in a traditional strawberry pot as they prefer room to grow and fruit. They do tolerate shade, but will thrive in sunshine, and prefer a slightly acidic soil.
Kate Nicoll, National Trust Gardens Training Specialist commented, “Strawberries are probably the perfect picnic food to enjoy in the summer as they are in their prime and are full of flavour. Many creatures love them just as much as we do, so keep them covered with netting and put a jam jar with a little beer in it nearby, to lure away any prowling slugs and snails.”
Kate’s top tips for growing strawberries:
- If growing strawberries in open ground, protect the fruit from damp by spreading straw underneath the plants. This will also maintain moisture in the soil and aid ripening.
- Allow any ‘runners’ to root either in pots or in the soil to replace older plants. A strawberry bed tends to deteriorate after three years, so fresh plants need to be grown on a new patch to prevent depletion.
- Container grown strawberries will need feeding as they begin to flower, use a high potash liquid feed as you water (seaweed liquid is ideal).
Raspberries are another summer fruit that is easy to grow and is rewarding both in terms of quantity and flavour. There are generally two types of varieties of raspberries; summer-fruiting raspberries which start to fruit in July and autumn-fruiting raspberries, which grow differently and won’t be ready until August.
It is important to know whether you have summer or autumn fruiting varieties as they are pruned differently. Summer raspberries need the fruited canes cut down to the ground as soon as they have finished fruiting, whilst autumn raspberries are chopped to the ground in early spring. Both will need a sturdy structure such as a fence post and wire to keep the lengthy canes tied upright and good fertile soil to ensure a bumper crop.
Raspberries take up more space compared to other summer fruits but are well worth it if you have an allotment or vegetable patch in your garden.
If space is limited, hybrid fruits crossed between native blackberries and raspberries, such as loganberries and tayberries are worth considering as they thrive when trained against a garden fence.
Keep on top of the pruning. As they begin to grow long new shoots during the summer, these will need to be tied in to increase the chances of fruit the following year.
Kate’s top tips for growing raspberries:
- Make sure the soil is enriched with manure or compost – raspberries are hungry plants and are in for the long haul.
- Sink a plank in front of the row to slow down the spread of roots and suckers into the rest of the garden – raspberries can be invasive.
- Summer fruiting raspberries make an excellent wind break if tied well to the structure – select the site accordingly to help protect tender crops.
Gooseberries are another native fruit that can be found growing in hedgerows and in gardens. Possibly one of the more underrated berries that can be sometimes forgotten and neglected during the summer harvest.
They can flourish in almost any type of soil and can be grown as bushes or be trained against a wall to take up less space in a small garden. They can even be grown in containers.
Thanks to the discovery of the red and yellow dessert gooseberries they are as luscious as any tropical fruit you may find. These can often be found in the gardens at Attingham Park in Shropshire.
Gooseberries are very simple to grow and are easy to store and freeze, perfect for making any conserves and require little maintenance apart from a regular winter prune to help keep them in shape. They can be prone to mildew and gooseberry sawfly, but these rarely destroy the whole plant.
It’s not just humans who enjoy the tangy flavour of a gooseberries, birds, particularly pigeons, are also always on the lookout for a ‘goosegog’ or two. Protect the plants from birds by covering them with netting or fleece, or make a good old-fashioned scarecrow.
Kate’s three top tips for growing gooseberries:
- Choose a red dessert variety such as ‘Whinham’s Industry’. You can thin the crop when still green and use for cooking. This will let the remaining fruit ripen and turn red – delicious eaten raw.
- Each winter prune the side branches back to short spurs to keep the plant compact. Once they are established, cut one or two whole branches to the ground to rejuvenate the plant.
- If you are short of space grow as cordons or fans against a fence or wall. They will even fruit on a north facing wall, although unlikely to redden without much sunlight.
Different currant varieties can be easily grown in any garden. Red, black and white currants are all commonly found and are thought to be native to the UK. They cope well with a range of different soil conditions and crop best in a sunny position. Red and white currants can be grown either as bushes, or as single stems, which take up less space and can be planted closer together for a mixture of varieties in a small garden.
Currants need cooking and often the addition of sugar to reduce their tart-like flavour. These fruits have become rather unfashionable, but keen gardeners and chefs are finding innovative ways to incorporate them into delicious recipes, rather than just cordials and jams. Sadly, white currants have almost disappeared entirely from recipe books.
Red currants are arguably the most popular, thanks to the traditional pairing of redcurrant jelly and turkey at Christmas, but this does not do their beautifully jewel like fruits justice.
They are very versatile in desserts and were once a key ingredient in family recipe books handed down through the generations.
Kate’s top tips for growing currants:
- Black currants can be summer pruned whilst being picked. Cut the biggest fruiting stems to the ground and pick off the fruit in comfort.
- Red and white currants fruit on the older wood, so need to be pruned in winter. Cut the lateral shoots on the end of each branch back to two or three buds.
- Any fruit grown in bush form benefits from the centre being kept open, in the shape of a goblet. This allows light and air in and prevents fungal disease building up.
In the gardening world, not only are blueberries a juicy fruit, but also beautiful flowers and colours. Blueberries are relatively easy to grow, providing that you have slightly acidic soil. If not, they can be grown in a container or pot.
If you are planting in the ground, blueberries need a sheltered spot in well-drained, moisture-retentive, acidic soil to do their best. A handy tip for knowing if your soil is acidic enough for blueberries, is to look to see if you have any rhododendrons growing in your garden or nearby, as these only thrive in acidic soil conditions.
Although blueberries can self-pollinate it is best to grow a minimum of two, as cross-pollinated plants tend to produce a larger fruit. Planting two or preferably three different plants will ensure reliable and plentiful crops. Pick the fruit when it is completely blue and has a white surface bloom.
Much like other summer berries, the problem of protection against birds (and squirrels) is a tricky one They also make the job of picking them quite arduous. A caged area is often the preferred solution for those with a larger garden, with all sorts of attractive walk-in designs available for gardeners with a creative flair.
Kate’s three top tips for growing blueberries:
- If growing in containers, position the pots close to your house or nearest water source so that you can water them regularly during the growing season.
- Choose a dwarf variety to grow in a pot such as ‘Top Hat’.
- Make sure you choose the right variety for the area in which you live, as some varieties are much hardier than others.
Summer berry recipes have been developed by National Trust chefs and reflect the fresh produce served in our cafés.
Images Credit: National Trust Images / John Millar