Neglected brambles, blackberries, and hybrid fruits
Blackberry week (October half term) was traditionally the time families went out into the hedgerows, ruined woolly gloves and picked blackberries for bramble jelly, wine or fruit crumbles.
It’s not quite the same these days. For a start, blackberries ripen much earlier than they did in the 1970s. Wait until the end of October and what people have missed, the birds will have eaten.
Foraging is now ‘fashionable’, hedgerows have diminished and cars on country lanes have multiplied hugely.
There’s simply not enough of the wild stuff to go around and what there is is likely to be covered in exhaust fumes. That’s why growing your own ‘bramble’ fruits makes perfect sense. They’re easy, cheap, productive and even attractive, if you pick the right varieties.
I’ve grown a loganberry/tayberry hybrid for years. It was sold as a sunberry 20 years ago, but you won’t find one called that now – it’s one of many loganberry and tayberry crosses.
The canes are spiny and form an effective deterrent trained along a study trellis at the end of the garden.
The main plant’s in semi-shade, but that doesn’t bother it. All it requires is cutting out the fruited canes at ground level in autumn.
They also spread themselves around – by seed via the birds, or by forming a new plantlet if a cane touches the ground and producing roots – keep an eye on them.
You do need to pick the very dark red/purple on a daily basis, as they ripen continuously from July – and if you don’t get them, the birds will (you’ll know by the purple poo).
They also don’t do well in a wet summer, as the fruit spoils and goes mushy or mouldy very quickly, even if you miss picking for a day.
They’re fruits that are better cooked than eaten raw and a few raspberries really improve their flavour.
My other bramble is a blackberry, variety Loch Maree.
It’s one of the newer, more garden-friendly types, being spineless, with pink double flowers and sweet, juicy berries.
It is supposed to tolerate semi-shade, but hasn’t, so I moved it to my fruit bed, where it climbs over a silver obelisk, a decision that has finally started to pay dividends.
Brambles are a good source of autumn/winter colour – the hybrid berry’s leaves turn a lovely russet, while the bare stems in winter are purple with a white bloom.
Most brambles grown for winter colour are far too big for a small garden but I really can’t resist mentioning the amusingly-named Rubus cockburnianus (white-stemmed bramble), because it deserves to be sniggered over childishly.
If you must take this seriously, cultivar Goldenvale is less vigorous and yellow-leaved.