Berry riisp ripeis beestbest
The gooseberry is one of those plants which only gets better and better with age.
The old people always seem to grow top prize-winning gooseberries. My 84-year-old neighbour Kate used to entreat me to see her hydrangeas, large seedling avocado trees, and finally her prize gooseberries. They were small bushes, carefully tended, horribly thorny, but covered in glowing red fruit the size of plums, nothing like the old, tiny, green, hard sour lumps of my childhood memories.
“You must come and dig up a bush this winter,” she would say, a twinkle in her eye at the thought of gooseberry-related delights that awaited me as a future connoisseur. Gooseberry jam, crumbles, custard, puddings, smoothies. Delicious.
These very typical New Zealand fruit were inherited from our British settler past and they thrive on the West Coast, especially if you have the canny, greenfingered talents of a retiree and treat them with the attention they crave.
You can bonsai them in individual pots – large if possible to retain water and well mulched for summer – so they are mobile and you gain better positions in the sun for ripening fruit. If well-fed, those green bullets do indeed swell and ripen to red, orange, or even purple berries, bursting with tart (but not sour), ripe goodness in summer. Speak to them, tell them stories, sing to them, etc. A gramophone will suffice.
Gooseberries are popular as a feature in cottage gardens in their ideal tubs like coal buckets, old baths or coppers and other antique-looking garden art. Like a good bonsai, the tub needs to sit in a saucer which retains water, but not so it soaks the pot base – sit it on a bed of gravel within the saucer.
The picture to the right shows my evervigilant organic friends’ collection in full fruit over summer. Their bushes are above waist height, planted into the ground, and mulched with sphagnum moss for weed suppression and moisture retention.
The main disadvantage of these plants is that they are very thorny, similar in shape and pointedness to the native matagouri or ‘wild Irishman’ scrub so you will get many a punctured finger trimming twigs and opening up the bushes with secateurs. This kind of pruning is a good idea though for helping the fruit to bask in those valuable sugar-yielding solar rays.
Gooseberries are in the Ribes family so they are basically a giant currant. The photo above shows these really sweet ‘black’ gooseberries, another successful lifestyle orcharding experiment at my friend Rob Warman’s place. These are a special variety which he seems to be able to reproduce with large cuttings. These are fruiting well and the ripe, dark fruit is really not sour at all – you begin to see why the kiwifruit was originally known as the Chinese gooseberry.
Rob’s ones are mulched with large woodchips, mainly to keep the weeds down and beat grass competition. They are also liberally fed with cow manure, compost and other goodies.