By Sasha Ivanova at London Plantology
There are many ways to grow berries in small spaces – wild strawberries in window boxes, a vertical wall of cranberries, dwarf raspberries in hanging baskets or blueberries in pots on the patio. Plant your containers now and you’ll get heavenly fragrance throughout the summer and a wonderful harvest with which to make delicious jams and cordials to last throughout the winter!
I started my berry garden by propagating alpine (aka woodland) strawberries from seed. The seeds germinated quickly and easily in the spring and by the end of July I had a few plants growing in the window boxes. Their compact growing habit and shallow roots make woodland strawberries ideal for containers and hanging baskets.
I love these little hard working plants. They always look cheerful and flower non-stop, even in winter! The berries are smaller than common garden strawberries but they’re packed with flavour and fragrance. On a hot day, a few freshly picked berries create an incredible aroma in your hands.
Grower’s tip: sprinkle alpine strawberry seeds on top of compost and don’t cover with soil as they need light to germinate. A bright windowsill is perfect.
For a vertical edible garden, try new varieties of climbing strawberries. Strawberry “Mount Everest” and strawberry “Skyline” produce up to 1m long runners which can be trained on trellis or a pea netting.
The visual effect of a green wall dotted with shiny red berries is stunning and the scent of strawberries in summer is delightful. With luck, slugs and snails will be too lazy to climb “Mount Everest” to get their pickings!
Climbing strawberries are also a great addition to patios and front gardens. They can be planted in ‘Tower Pots’ (pots with a supportive frame) and trained into living vertical columns. Place Tower Pots strategically around your patio to create unusual focal points. They draw the eye making small spaces look more spacious, and you’ll have the added benefit of eating freshly picked berries when they’re ripe!
Blueberries & cranberries
Growing blueberries and cranberries is easier than you might think. Given the right soil conditions, both will supply delicious berries year after year. Acid-loving plants, they will perform best if the soil pH is less than 5.
The easiest way to ensure a correct pH level is to grow blueberries and cranberries in pots filled with an ericaceous compost mixed with bark. Bark mulch will help to retain moisture in containers, needed for the plant’s shallow root system.
Bluecrop and Pink Lemonade are my favourite blueberry varieties. Bluecrop is a compact bush, suitable for containers, and has large bell-shaped cream flowers in the spring, blue-purple berries packed with antioxidants in the summer and colourful leaves in the autumn. Pink Lemonade is the first pink blueberry! A truly unique variety with delicate pink flowers and sweet rose-pink berries – it’s loved by kids for its delicious sweet flavour and by grown-ups for its amazing appearance.
Both varieties are self-fertile but having two or more plants will improve pollination and your harvest.
I also grow Pilgrim cranberries, or rather they are spreading everywhere on a pilgrimage across my garden. I planted them last spring under pine trees but they quickly became overrun with weeds. The creeping cinquefoil weed intertwined with the crawling cranberries became impossible to bear, so this season I am experimenting with a new method.
I’m now planting cranberries in three hanging baskets positioned one below the other to create a cascading effect. Cranberries send out runners which I will be rooting in the baskets lower down to propagate new upright plants. Flowers and fruit are produced on upright plants so it is worth rooting as many new shoots as possible for a good yield.
An added bonus is that the glowing red berries look amazing in the late autumn when all other colours have almost disappeared from the garden.
Grower’s tip: Water blueberries and cranberries with rainwater to help maintain the acidity of the soil.
Dwarf raspberries & blackberries
When I got my own small London garden, my dream was to plant a few raspberry and blackberry canes, but I did have some doubts. Large thorny bushes spreading across the middle of the lawn wasn’t very appealing! However, with new fruit varieties available, it’s easy to grow your own berries even without a garden.
Trailing raspberries and blackberries are a perfect choice for hanging baskets and require less maintenance than flowers. They look wonderful hanging on the patio, balcony or by the front door, and you can pick delicious home-grown berries on your way in from work! For an interesting colour mix, try pink raspberry “Ruby Falls” and dark blackberry “Black Cascade”.
Dwarf varieties like blackberry “Opal” and raspberry “Ruby Beauty” reach only 1m height and are good for growing in large containers. Their flowers attract honey bees and bumblebees and their bushy habit ensures a bumper harvest. An extra bonus of the trailing and dwarf varieties are the thornless stems!
Have you tried growing berries in your garden or allotment? How did it go, and what are your favourites? Have you discovered any productive varieties or dwarf plants suitable for small spaces? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
About the author
Sasha Ivanova is an urban gardener, blogger, and martial artist. Passionate about propagation and growing from seed, she grows all her plants in a small London back yard. Her research has led her to cultivate unusual edible plants, as well as experimenting with fruit trees in what she describes as a ‘garden without trees’. Read more at her blog, londonplantology.com