Neglected brambles, blackberries and hybrid fruits
If you’re a beginner at gardening and want an easy fruit to grow, do try one of the bramble fruits – blackberries and their related hybrids. Unlike the wild bramble, these modern hybrids can be compact, spineless and bear pretty flowers. You can even grow them in a large container.
When I was a kid, we used to call the October half-term holidays Blackberry Week. It was traditionally the time families went out into the hedgerows, ruined woolly gloves and picked fruit for bramble jelly, wine or 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. What remains 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.
Blackberry Loch Maree
One bramble fruit I can really recommend is a blackberry, Loch Maree. It’s one of the newer, more garden-friendly types, being spineless, with pink double flowers and sweet, juicy berries.
A word of warning – it is supposed to tolerate semi-shade, but didn’t. I moved it to my main fruit bed, where it climbed over a silver obelisk in full sun. This decision paid dividends but you have to weigh up whether it’s worth giving up precious sunny space to a blackberry, rather than something more precious. After a few years, it was replaced by a tender veg patch. However, if you have a sunny garden, it’s worth it.
Bramble fruits – hybrid berry of many names
I’ve grown a loganberry/tayberry hybrid for many years. It was sold as a sunberry 30 years ago, but you won’t find one called that now. It’s one of many loganberry and tayberry crosses. Beware, this is not a plant for a tiny garden and it’s not pretty.
The canes are spiny and form an effective deterrent trained along a sturdy 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 when it produces roots. Keep an eye on them!
You need to pick the very dark red/purple on a daily basis, as they ripen continuously from July. If you don’t get them, the birds will (you’ll know by the purple poo everywhere). 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 taste better cooked than eaten raw and a few raspberries really improve their flavour.
Bramble fruits – exceptional winter colour
Brambles are a good source of autumn and winter colour. The hybrid berry’s leaves turn a lovely russet, while the bare stems in winter are purple with a white bloom. Blackberry Loch Maree’s leaves turn an astonishing amber and red.
Most brambles grown for winter colour are far too big for a small garden. I 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, the cultivar Goldenvale is less vigorous and yellow-leaved.
Bramble fruits page updated July 2022