Years ago, working on a programme about superfoods for BBC Gardeners’ World, I was shocked to learn just how deeply our notion of which foods are best for us is shaped by the food industry, rather than scientists. Blackberries, for example are hugely good for us, packed full of vitamin C, antioxidants and fibre – yet we routinely overlook them for blueberries, which have been more heavily marketed.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of this situation, what everyone can agree on is that eating the freshest produce possible is the healthiest way forward – and that eating a variety of different fruit and veg is the best way to ensure you get maximum benefit. Berries are proven to be one of the healthiest ‘superfoods’, and luckily they’re also easy to grow.
So, which are best from the gardener’s point of view? And how can we get the most out of them?
Blackberries – if you’re put off by the thought of a wild thicket of prickly brambles, never fear – try growing a thornless variety up your house walls or in a pyramid in a pot if your garden is small – they’re easy to look after and give you large, delicious fruit.
Blueberries – these are easy to grow if you have acid soil (if rhododendrons grow well nearby) – if not, plant them in pots of ericaceous compost, which is widely available in garden centres. Grow at least two to ensure good crops of fruit, as they need to pollinate each other.
Honeyberries – a kind of honeysuckle, would you believe, these shrubby plants have beautiful blue berries with a complex flavour. Gardener and writer Mark Diacono, author of ‘Taste of the Unexpected’ raves about them. Make sure you buy two to get cross-pollination. They’ll grow in any soil so are great if you want blueberries but don’t have the right conditions.
Cranberries – these are commercially grown in bogs which are flooded to harvest them – cultivation as for blueberries, but, surprise surprise, more water, ideally rainwater if you live somewhere that the hardness of your tap water furs up the kettle.
Currants – under-rated but packed with goodness. So good in fact that monks used to dry them as vitamin C pills to ward off winter illnesses in the Middle Ages. If space is tight grow a standard redcurrant as an attractive patio feature. Unlike most fruit, they’ll also take a bit of shade.