The black arts of adding drama to outdoor space Berry tasty
WE are enjoying the finest display of berries for many a year. Most have survived the drought and now offer a feast for birds and our eyes.
But, as ever, the weather gods can disrupt best-laid plans. As I write, some wretch is pouring buckets of water down my office window and I’m just back from securely lashing the polytunnel door against the gales, mourning my gorgeous berry-laden Euonymus that was blown out of the ground and trying to straighten a Sunset apple knocked askew by the wind. So, when reading this, you may well wonder what berries I’m talking about.
While we’re out for a walk, most of us get a kick out of picking some wild berries, such as brambles and raspberries. But by choosing carefully you can even do some of this foraging in the garden as well.
Many plants use birds to disperse their fruits, offering sweet, tasty flesh as a reward. Birds have good colour vision, so a fine splash of coloured berries provides a surefire magnet. After consuming the fruits, birds excrete precious seed well away from the parent tree.
Many of the fruits consumed by birds are poisonous to humans, so we should only forage for berries we know are safe. If in doubt, check it out. Although some members of a genus may be fine, others aren’t. So ca’ canny.
As you’ll doubtless know, hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna, rosehip and rowan, Sorbus aucuparia, can produce tasty results, provided they’re processed before use. But, however enthusiastic a vintner I may be, I reckon hawthorn and rowan berries are on a par with paint stripper. But hawthorn berries make an excellent sauce and rosehip syrup can be much better than the dread treatment meted out to hapless children for colds in the old days.
I’m a happy guinea pig when it comes to trying new flavours and my son gave us a baby shrub, Cornus Mas, Cornelian cherry recently after trying me out on some of its red berries, salted and pickled and used like olives – I passed the test.
And I’m a firm convert to barberries, Berberis vulgaris, so much so that, when a bush died recently, we instantly planted a replacement. The fruits add a tart, lemony flavour to many Iranian rice dishes and massively improve chicken and pheasant stuffings.
But you do need to tread carefully with some other fruits. Like many of our garden favourites, sea buckthorn, Eleagnus rhamnoides, makes a