I’ve been asked which greenhouse plant is top of the GYO essential list, practical, productive, with the most outstanding nutritional value? Unfortunately this would be trays of kale and watercress. However also high in the ranking is a little grown relative of tomatoes that I featured here a decade ago. Still not widely known the only occasion people come across this is as a garnish, an orange berry surrounded by an inedible papery husk.
Physalis peruviana is misleadingly called the Cape Gooseberry, perhaps because if a diner was to eat one they would have found it mouth puckeringly sharp. For a good reason; this fruit is packed full of Ascorbic acid, vitamin C, and is a rich source of pro-vitamin A. Similarly bright orange this berry actually outstrips the infamous Citrus in vitamins, and likewise makes a delicious ‘citrus’ flavoured marmalade. (This, Tippari jelly, was once a major export from S. Africa.)
These fruits are produced so continually they can be eaten fresh 365 days a year (and picked fully ripe they are sweet and just pleasantly sharp). Once picked they keep clean in their husks for months, if not picked there’s still no waste as these fruits drop then slowly turn to ‘raisins’ inside those protective husks.
Even more in this plants favour is it’s so easy to grow (actually too easy as given any chance it will take over), happy in almost any soil or compost, wet or dry, in sun or shade and 100% pest and disease resistant. It will grow! The only requirement is a frost free greenhouse for year round cropping though even if you lose a plant to frost it usually comes back from the roots.
Seed and plants are available commercially, cuttings take readily so these are easy to propagate and multiply. Ideally confine these to pots, tubs or large containers, planted in the border they will become unmanageably vigorous (though then giving massive crops).
Without doubt this is a must for every productive gardener with a greenhouse however these can also be grown on sunny windowsills and bay windows where they will provide a rich vitamin source all year round.
Other species have edible fruits, the annual P. pruinosa (Cossack ground cherry) and P. ixocarpa the Jamberry are worth investigating. The ornamental garden species P. alkengii is also edible if less palatable.