Natural Garden

Raspberry: a Perfect Fruit for Any Garden?

Autumn is an excellent time for planting trees and shrubs, and raspberry is a perfect choice for almost any garden. It is undemanding and easy to grow. As a woodland plant it is tolerant of some shade. I am a fan of a modern Polish variety ‘Polka’ that I planted after reading reviews pointing out that it can do well in some shade, and this turned out to be absolutely true. It grows in my garden in less than perfect conditions, getting about half a day of sun. As a result it ripens later, in the second week of August, rather than in the second half of July, but this is not a problem because it also finishes later. It continues to fruit at least until the end of September and, if the weather is at all reasonable, into early October, when raspberries are very desirable.

Some raspberries, including ‘Polka’, bear fruit on the current year’s growth. This means that the canes, that have produced the fruit, die off completely in late autumn and need to be cut down to the ground to make space for new fruit-bearing shoots next spring. Consequently it is not a problem if any shoots did not grow the way you wanted, or were broken by the wind, children or pets, because next year there will be a fresh start. Since the canes are cut down each year, they can be underplanted with spring flowers, such as crocuses and daffodils, creating a decorative look for a family garden across the seasons. Bulbs flower early and their decaying foliage is concealed by young raspberry growth, highly ornamental in its own right. Raspberries are typically only about 1.5m tall and so will not create shade in the garden or antagonize neighbours. They do not need a lot of space – three or four plants, each growing several shoots, will produce plenty of berries during the season.

There are many different varieties, including red, purple and yellow, early and late, so that it is possible the have raspberries from early July and into mid autumn. Some bear fruit on the second year shoots, so it is important to check cultivation instructions when choosing a cultivar. Raspberry is a perfect plant for pollinators: its flowers are very rich in nectar and are constantly visited by bees. Because they face downwards, the nectar is not washed off by the rain and is available to insects even in unfavourable weather.

Growing raspberries

Raspberry can grow in almost any soil and in some shade, but ideal conditions are sun for most of the day and deep, rich, heavy (containing clay), rather than light (sandy) soil. If possible, the soil should be moderately moist – hot and dry conditions are best avoided, and so is the waterlogged soil. When planting raspberries, mix in well-rotted manure and compost into the soil, and put compost and manure around the plants each autumn: raspberries require regular fertiliser because of their strong annual growth.

 In late autumn cut down shoots that have finished fruiting close to the ground (depending on the variety this will be either all shoots, if they are annual, or two-year old shoots in biannual cultivars). Raspberries have long spreading roots and shoots do not always emerge in the same place in spring. Cut down any that are weak or start growing in a wrong place.   

When cultivated on a larger scale, raspberries are planted in rows with 50-70cm between the plants and 1.5-2m between the rows. To create supports posts are put up every 3-4 meters along the rows and connected by wires. Young shoots are tied to the wires each year and cut down when they die after fruiting .

Fields of raspberries in Serbia by Dejan Krsmanovic

To get a really stunning display in a family garden choose varieties with large beautiful berries and plant individual plants in an open position in a deeply dug up and well fertilised with compost and manure soil. Ideally leave about 1m distance between the plants. Put a 1.5-2m pole next to each plant and in spring loosely tie 3-6 best and strongest shoots of each plant to the pole, cutting out the weaker shoots. Water during the growing season, sometimes with a liquid organic (home-made) fertiliser, and occasionally loosen the surface of the soil around the plants with a fork. When well looked after, plants will produce lots of large berries and will look beautiful throughout the season.

‘Raspberries’ by Virginia Granberry (1831-1921), Boston Public Library

Recipe (culinary)

One of the best recipes for eating fresh raspberries I know is a croissant stuffed with raspberries. It is extremely simple to make. Cut a croissant into half, either length-wise or across, it does not matter. Make an opening inside and fill with as many raspberries as would fit in, crushing them gently with a teaspoon. Moist raspberry filling holds together very well, does not run out, and the croissant can be cut further into pieces for serving. It makes not only a genuinely delicious, but also a very presentable tea or breakfast dish. To make a more indulgent version of this, put thick double cream into the croissant first, before stuffing it with raspberries. This is absolutely delicious, but is really not essential. A health-conscious raspberry-lover does not need to despair, because a raspberry stuffed croissant tastes amazing without cream as well.

Image credits: Features image: ‘Raspberries’ by Ole Hasby; ‘Raspberries’ by Luke Jones

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Blackcurrant – a Star of Northern Gardens

Growing Fruit Trees in Pots

How to protect plants from frost damage in spring

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