Cultivated blackberries are a great addition to any fruit plot

Crab apple John Downie.
Crab apple John Downie.
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Cultivated blackberries are a useful addition to any fruit plot if you yearn for the tastes of yesteryear but lack the will to forage in the wild among a tangle of thorns.

Thorn-less varieties, with whopping big fruits, have been around for years and they are so easily grown against a wall, fence or wires. They are happiest when planted with their roots in good organic soil that will store and release water when developing fruits need it.



The main chore is providing a suitable framework of support at the outset for a vigorous plant. Pruning is simple; removing spent fruiting stems completely at ground level and tying in the new shoots. For big fruits on thorn-less plants, try Loch Ness or Loch Maree.

Following the introduction of Primocane raspberry plants, recent developments have led to the launch of blackberry of this type. The idea is simple enough. Young shoots of the plant are rooted in spring and grown on quickly in pots. They are then sold and fruit in the very same year. The new Blackberry Reube has produced fruits up to 14g in weight during trials, and has some spines initially but these disappear as the plant matures. If the old canes are left intact they will crop early, and this is followed by a late crop on the new ones.

You can probably pick up a jar of blackberry jam for a song at the local supermarket but does it taste as good, and give the same pleasure as some you’ve made? Fewer jars result when you decide to separate the pulp from juice by straining it through a muslin bag, but the jelly produced has a heavenly flavour.

Ornamental crab apples are put to the same use in this house.

We’ve had a John Downie for 25 years and it has been so reliable. When covered in bloom it is attractive but there is also a very practical reason for its presence. The flowers are out early and last several weeks, so it becomes a pollinating partner for several culinary and dessert apples in the garden. The medium-large, red-flushed fruits are a feature of late summer before being harvested and turned into jelly.

The tree is self-fertile and has cropped well each year following normal winter pruning into a spur system. However, despite reducing leading shoots by one-third every time, there is a gradual increase in height, and last winter it was time for a serious trim. Out came the longhandled pruners and a saw, in an effort to reduce the size while retaining a good shape. The response this spring was positive; with new shoots, and a reasonable amount of flowers. There will be enough apples for two or three jars of jelly but this will improve year on year.

In this garden we enjoy the best of both worlds. Large fruiting cultivated strawberries head for the kitchen in season, while the tiny alpine types self seed in gravel pathways, offering a stoop and pick me treat as we walk around the garden.