Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

Growing Soft Fruit – Gooseberries, Red and White Currants

Few gardeners grow soft fruit these days, a few strawberries or a row or two of raspberries at the very most – Red or White currants are out of the question because gardeners assume that they take up a lot of space. I inherited a range of familiar and unusual red and white currants and gooseberries, they are protected from late cold winds and are planted against an east facing fence. They belonged to Peter Maunder, the father of a flat-mate from my student days, he was a great gardener and fruit enthusiast who collected soft fruit in all shapes and sizes.

There‘s gooseberries like sweet and delicious ‘Langley Gage‘, ‘Hinnomaki Red‘ from Finland a heavy cropping, mildew resistant cultivar and ‘Guido‘ a large dessert and exhibition variety. Among the currants are two pink currants labelled ‘Hollande Rose‘ and ‘Couler de Chair‘, the first is in the ‘Plantfinder‘ and have found nothing of the other. Thank goodness such committed collectors exist, preserving our heritage; each back garden collection is a small but significant back up to the National Fruit collection at Brogdale in Kent.

They are grown as space saving vertical cordons, with a single main stem with fruiting side shoots, it‘s simple, effective and packs plenty into a small space, you can train the lower laterals to form highly ornamental double and triple cordons if you‘re feeling adventurous and they could be used as a productive ornamental hedge. Maintenance is simple; they are pruned twice a year; once from late June to early July when the current season‘s new growth is cut back to 4-5 leaves and again from November to March cutting the leader at the top of the main stem leaving 6″ of the new growth and the summer pruned side shoots back to one bud.

White and Red currants are perfect plants for a north facing or shady wall, provided the soil is moist and free from the drip of overhanging trees. Each berry is a brightly coloured translucent balloon of water so make sure they are well watered once the fruit have formed particularly before the onset of dry weather. They still need supporting canes and I‘m installing an irrigation system later in spring; mulching round the base keeps them weed free and ensures that their shallow roots aren‘t damaged by hoeing. If you have a fruit cage, gooseberries and currants look great as standards and are very ornamental, particularly redcurrants like ‘Jonkheer van Tets‘ and ‘Red Lake‘ whose eye-catching fruits hang like glossy pearl drop earrings. But how can they use them? – there is only so many ‘Summer puddings‘ you can make. A dip into recipe books reveals such temptations as ‘Currant creams‘, redcurrant cakes, cherry and red currant sauce, and baked gooseberry pudding. Now all I have to do is devise a system to protect mine from the birds. The traditional planting time is between leaf fall and bud burst, there‘s a whole range of fruit available from specialist nurseries – all you have to do is get planting