growing berries

black berries on the vine

People have grown and picked berries from the most primitive times. There is something so basic about picking berries that it almost rivals a session with a top therapist. When I was young, I loved wandering the woodlands of New England and filling cans with tiny native blueberries that would later be baked into pies with an intense flavor and inky blue-black color that has never even been approached by those huge, bloated, flavorless “blueberries” sold in markets today.

In England I delighted in fingers stained red and black from cropping raspberry and blackberry vines. In hot, dry Southern California I still look forward to the early summer picking of boysenberries and grapes. Last year I added the brilliant scarlet-orange ovals of Gogi berries. I’ve even been able to decorate boring rain barrels by topping the barrel off with a bowl of cascading strawberry plants.

There are all kinds of berries on sprawling plants, vines – some spiny, some not – and shrubs. The harvesting is as much fun as the baking and in most cases, there are more eaten while cropping than make it to the kitchen for cooking. They are great in pies and cookies, salads and sauces for poultry and other meat dishes, raw with ice cream, whipped cream or mixed together with other fruits. There are recipes galore for all types of berries.

The good news is that there are berries that grow in practically any climate or soil so you can grow them in your garden. They cover walls and fences, wind over archways, form neat shrubs for edging or backgrounds. Their versatility allows to them to fit into any style landscape.

Growing berries is the best. You get vitamin D from standing in the sun cultivating and cropping them. Eat them for their flavor, nutrition and fiber. If you grow enough, you can share them with family and friends or with the wildlife that has known how good they are for a long, long time.

And then there is the health value: all of a sudden medical researchers are discovering berries are storehouses of anti-oxidants, low in calories, offer soluble dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals, are considered antimicrobial and show cardio-protective effects as well as protection against urinary tract infections. Neuroscientists found feeding blueberries to rats seemed to delay mental deterioration due to age. More connections have been made with improving eyesight and cholesterol reduction. The list goes on. If even just some of these benefits are true, eating delicious berries should be at the top of your health benefits gardening list.

Since berries are decorative in the garden, come in a wide range of flowers and growth habits and are not demanding in culture, it seems like every garden should consider finding a spot for at least a plant or two. You can even add them to a design for an edible front yard. Considering the health benefits and joy of harvesting bowls of colorful little fruits along with all the other pluses, I can’t help conclude that berries are the best. Since there are so many kinds, there’s no excuse not to grow them in your garden. At least one, two or ten kinds should do well where you live. So which berries are going into your landscape next?