Delicious no-fuss garden snacks

Col—Green—GroundCherry

Col—Green—GroundCherry

Ground cherry (Physalis pruinosa) also known as husk cherry or dwarf cape gooseberry.

This might sound a little sacrilegious coming from a diehard gardener but I’m not really into growing food. I have little inclination to provide supplemental watering, fertilizing, staking, and coddling for plants in my own garden. Not to mention, the complicated calculus of succession planting (sow seeds for fall crops now!) might make my head explode. Right about now I’d much rather be lazy as possible, sit back and watch my garden grow, and am perfectly content to buy vegetables from other local gardeners and farmers willing—eager even—to do all of the necessary hard work to bring in a bounty. That said, I do have a deep appreciation for the edibles growing in my garden that put out with very little input from me.

One of the first plants I threw in my front yard border was a gifted thornless blackberry (Rubus ulmifolius). I had no idea what I was in for but “blackberry” should have given me a clue. It is indeed a bramble but because it’s truly thornless, rambunctiousness may be forgiven. Even so, a mixed border is perhaps not the ideal location for such a plant. No doubt it would be more productive given its own acreage and a trellis. And no doubt it would be easier to harvest the berries if I didn’t have to dive headfirst into the iris, daisies, sea holly, and teasel to find them. But I’m all for being rewarded with intensely sweet, sun-warm berries while I’m weeding, and I’m not a pie maker anyway.

Evidently, thornless blackberry’s only requirements are full sun and some judicious pruning/editing. Flowers and fruit occur on second year canes. Meanwhile, fresh canes shoot out of the ground in 6-to 8-foot arches every year and I whack those back by a third to half midsummer to encourage them to branch. (More branching equals more fruit next year.) Second years canes—the ones that fruited—should be cut to the ground in the fall. Suckers from these generous plants can be removed and transplanted anytime. My experience in moving a well-established clump with several thumb-thick canes leads me to believe it’s virtually un-killable.

My other favorite garden snack is ground cherry (Physalis pruinosa) also known as husk cherry or dwarf cape gooseberry. The first time I ever peeled open the tomatillo-like papery husk and popped one in my mouth was at a farmers market about ten years ago. When I got home, I ate the pint-full standing at my kitchen counter. To me, they taste like an entire fruit salad in one bite, heavy on pineapple.

Some time after discovery, and after settling into this garden, I must have eaten a handful out on the front stoop and dropped a few because the plants first appeared in pavement cracks there and have since sowed themselves like weeds at the front of every border. In fact, they are weeds. But I’m thrilled to have them and will always allow some to stay.

They don’t seem to require much water—all they get in my garden is rain—but do want plenty of sun to produce their produce. The cherries form underneath a 1-to 2-foot tall by 2-to 3-foot wide canopy of moleskin leaves and are ripe when the husks turn yellow-tan and drop off the stem into your paw.

I should mention highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) too but the birds never leave me more than a handful of berries. I knew that going in (and knew I would never bother with netting). And I think they are such a handsome plant for moist shade and acidic soil (especially come fall) that the fruit is almost superfluous. But I’d be hard pressed to imagine what could be more amazing than biting into a fresh blueberry straight from the garden.

Meanwhile, my one Sungold tomato languishes in parched soil and the woodchuck ate the lettuce and Swiss chard long ago. But knowing how delicious home grown snacks can be, I can see how it might be a slippery slope to growing, and maybe even properly tending, a few more edible plants next year.

Kristin Green is the interpretive horticulturist at Blithewold Mansion, Gardens & Arboretum in Bristol, where she’s worked since 2003. Follow her garden blog at http://blog.blithewold.org.

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