Plan now for sweet treats in 2021

By Tamsin Westhorpe

Confession - I’m not a great cook.

However, during these strange times I have been spending more hours experimenting in the kitchen with my home-grown produce. Never have I felt such a strong link between the saucepan and plot and never have I used so much sugar.

Raspberries and loganberries

My new-found confidence and love of turning my fruity garden harvest into treats for the table has made me consider planting more fruiting shrubs in the autumn. In previous years the blackcurrants, loganberries and raspberries would have been turned into jams and pies by my mother but this year it was me that unexpectedly got the jam pan out. I hadn’t realised how rewarding and easy it was to make preserves and I’m now addicted.

Blackcurrants are a fantastic source of Vitamin C

So many of us have spent this spring and summer making the most of our home-grown produce. The rush to buy vegetable seeds and fruiting plants at the beginning of lockdown is all the evidence we need to prove that growing your own has become a way of life or something to aspire to. I’m predicting another flurry of excitement at tree and shrub planting time. With the renewed interest in growing for cooking, I’m convinced that there will be a rush to plant raspberry canes and blueberry and blackcurrant bushes as people like myself strive to be self-sufficient in jam!

Making jam is easy, rewarding and a money saving hobby

The most valuable lesson I have learnt during this time is that you really must grow what you know you will eat as a family. If you are planning to grow more permanent edibles such as soft fruit you need to give it thought. There is absolutely no point growing white currants if you’re never going to use them. Planning for autumn fruit bush planting should start now. Begin the planning process by writing a list of all the fruity delights you like to cook and eat. For example, my husband isn’t keen on the pips in raspberries so it might be better for me to grow more blackcurrants and my son adores blueberries on his cereal which are expensive to buy.

Once you have your wish list it’s time to look at the garden. Soft fruit requires a sunny spot for the best results. If you’re short on sunshine, then you might be better growing in pots on the patio and forgetting the idea of a fruit frame. Your next challenge is to decide which varieties to grow. This is tricky as we have never had so much choice. You’ll discover thornless blackberries and gooseberries, yellow raspberries and unusual fruits you’ve never considered such as the jostaberry (a cross between a gooseberry and blackcurrant). It’s great fun to grow fruits that are harder or more expensive to buy at the greengrocers. Consider loganberries, tayberries, redcurrants or even cranberries.

Redcurrants can be used to make jelly to enjoy with roast meals

Contemplate choosing different varieties of the same fruit to avoid large gluts. For example, Blackcurrant ‘Ben Lomond’ is a late season blackcurrant harvested in late July. Grow this with ‘Big Ben’ that is typically harvested in mid-July to spread out the harvest time. However, if you are planning to make jam only then one large harvest might suit you better.

Blackcurrants and summer fruiting raspberries both freeze well

It takes a couple of years to get your shrubby soft fruits to reach their peak so if you’re planning to move then why not grow blueberries in pots and take them with you? They are perfect for container gardens and require ericaceous compost for success. If you’re looking to grow blueberries for the first time then I recommend that you head to www.chrisbowers.co.uk for a growing guide and a wonderful choice of varieties.

When it comes to raspberries if you have the space grow summer and autumn fruiting varieties. For a large autumn crop, I can’t find one to beat ‘Autumn Bliss’ but for sweetness in autumn ‘Fallgold’ with its golden berries is not to be ignored. For a reliable crop of summer fruits ‘Glen Clova’ gets my vote.

Traditionally raspberry canes have been grown in open ground as they are large plants – although they can be grown in giant pots, I’m not convinced the results are good.

Mixed summer berry jam ready for toast

Enjoy choosing your sweet treats for next year and make sure you keep all your empty jam jars – you’ll be needing them.

Tamsin Westhorpe

With over 25 years’ experience in the horticultural industry, Tamsin has plenty of practical, hands on advice to share. Her career has seen her edit The English Garden magazine for six years, write scripts for TV gardening, lecture at Kingston Maurward College in Dorset and care for parks and gardens. She is now a freelance writer and curator and gardener of Stockton Bury Gardens, Herefordshire (listed by The Times in the top 20 gardens to visit July 2017). Tamsin is also an RHS Chelsea Flower Show Judge, co-Chair of The Garden Media Guild and a prolific speaker at many high profile events. She has recently written her first book ‘Diary of a Modern Country Gardener’ published by Orphans Publishing and is the voice of the popular Candide Gardening podcast ‘Fresh from the pod’.

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