Growing Unusual Berries

I’ve always been a gatherer. It drives my husband a little crazy I think, that I will stop by the side of the road and happily pick whatever I find, so I try to do my gathering alone. Over near Ashland I found a whole row of ornamental brown leaved plum trees that were covered with little red plums, not to mention all the blackberry bushes on the drive over. These all went into the freezer to later on become jam and a tasty plum syrup that ultimately ended up either as jelly or a refreshing cold drink for the summer. Then there were the Service Berries and Oregon Grapes in a parking lot in Ashland and of course, on the way to Klamath Falls I bagged large clusters of Elderberries growing along the railway line.

What I really like to do though is to grow my own unusual berries. Given the challenge of this climate we live in, it’s been trial and error for me over the years. I’ve been poring through rare fruit catalogs for a long time, and have given a try to anything that supposedly will withstand a US gardening zone 5 winter. For many of those years I lived at Lake Tahoe, which had the same temperatures as Chiloquin but much more snow cover in winter. That snow cover is really beneficial because it insulates the ground, and the deeper it gets the better the plants are protected from the cold temperatures and drying winds. Most winters here there are long periods of cold with no snow cover, and some of those plants that did well at Tahoe are surviving, but getting lots of freeze-back each winter.

Elaeagnus is the genus that comes to mind when I think of freeze-back. The common names for 3 of the many Elaeagnus species are Russian Olive, Autumn Olive and Goumi. They are not olives, but the small trees resemble an olive tree, so I suppose that is why the common name includes Olive. They are pretty plants with a silvery underside to the leaves and small, fragrant cream colored flowers in the spring. Robins love the greenish Russian Olive fruit but it’s not something that we would want to eat. Autumn Olive and Goumi though are a different matter. Autumn Olive is a small tree and Goumi a shrub, and both have small red fruits that are quite tart raw, or perhaps you might even call it mouth-puckering tart, but cook up into very flavorful jellies and syrups. In Tahoe my Autumn Olive grew famously, but here the tips of the branches die back by half each winter, while the Goumi doesn’t die back at all.

Another shrub that does well here is Aronia. It’s a lovely shrub with flat clusters of small white flowers in spring that attract bees and butterflies, followed by small, almost black berries in late summer. If you can get the berries picked before the robins descend on them, they can also go straight into the freezer to be turned into a syrup when there’s time for such things during the long winter. Aronia has yet another bonus in that the leaves turn a brilliant red in the fall, and nothing winter can throw at it seems to faze it in the least.

Seaberry or Sea-Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) is a very thorny shrub that forms impenetrable clumps, which doesn’t aid in picking it’s bright orange berries. It’s worth getting stuck a few times though because the berries, though sour when raw, cook up into a delicious somewhat orange/pineapple flavored juice high in vitamin C that is sold commercially in Europe. The Seaberry is native all through Europe and China, growing in dry, sandy locations. It does well here, but plant it where it will not invade your flower or vegetable garden, and where it will get plenty of sun. You will also need to plant two as the male and female flowers occur on separate plants. The flowers are extremely small, hard to see and wind-pollinated. You’ll find that a web search for Seaberry will list a multitude of uses for every part of the plant.

I have tried Wolfberry, known also as Goji Berry (Lycium species) and also native to Europe and China, but it did not survive the first winter. Still, I might try again. Sometimes the plant just needs to be bigger before it is put to the test of a Chiloquin winter. I’ll try keeping it in a pot in a cool, but not freezing place, until it’s got a couple of winters under it’s belt and then try planting it out.

Give some of these unusual berries a try. I’m very glad that I did.

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