Gardens are in a constant state of change, a dynamic system that is never the same each year. Well, that is my excuse for the latest trial in the garden anyway. Between the apple trees up the drive I had intended to enjoy hundreds of foxgloves this summer and last year grew them from seed, by the hundred. But, despite improving the soil, digging in lots of organic matter, it is still pretty rubbish and is wet in winter and every one, slowly perished. I have never had foxgloves die on me like this but a new garden is about learning and I am learning the hard way. In other areas of the garden they survived and in some areas actually look like they should, but not here. Happily, the apples have finally settled in and are making progress. Because the long, narrow bed, with grass both sides, the side next to the drive planted with pink and white daffs, is mulched and I want to keep it clear for the benefit of the apples, I have decided that small and herbaceous plants are too much work for this part of the garden.
Because I am trying to grow as many edibles as possible I decided that the spaces between the apples should be some sort of fruit. I have most of the common fruits in the garden already so was widening my horizon a bit. I would plant blueberries but I am not that keen on them to be honest. They are nice-looking plants but the berries are rather tasteless, in my opinion, and when I have grown them the blackbirds had more than me. And they need acid soil. I have acid soil but because apples need some lime (and get it as a light application every autumn) they are not good neighbours. So I decided on honeyberries.
Honeyberries are not related to any other garden fruit. They are honeysuckles (Lonicera caerulea) and native to Kamchatka so I am hoping that, it being native to one of the coldest and wettest places on earth, it may just about survive here! The fruits are slightly odd-looking, rather oblong with a blunt end and, apparently, superficially like blueberries. They are supposed to be rather tart.
This is a leap of faith because I have never tasted one and actually never seen a plant for sale before. But I went in like a bull in a china shop and now there are 20 planted. Some references state that it is best to plant more than one variety to cross pollinate. I have planted 7 varieties and they seem to flower at different times. I am jumping the gun a bit here since the poor little things are only 20cm high (pot grown) but they are all carrying a few flowers or buds.
Honeyberries are best planted in sun or part shade and in acid to neutral soil. They grow to about 1.5m high and across. They are useful (I hope) because they ripen earlier than most other fruits. They should crop quite well, although I am sure the birds will have a go at them. Being so dark in colour they should be full of good things.
Commercially there seems to be a lot of interest in honeyberries and breeding has taken place in Russia, Canada and Poland. I am hoping to taste a few this year but that is being very optimistic – well will see. If you have grown them I would be delighted to hear how you got on with them.