The Casual Gardener: Blowing raspberries
As John Manley enjoys a bountiful raspberry harvest he's keen to stress how their success has little to do with him
“THAT'S quite a lot of raspberries,” my wife exclaimed as I came in from garden clutching the colander. I too was pleasantly surprised by the bounty – not enough to make jam but I'd be able to add a handful to the porridge for a couple of mornings, with some left over for a smoothie. Hopefully, there'd be the same again in a few days' time. Not quite self-sufficiency but enough to provide a small sense of smugness.
I love berries – blackberries, raspberries, strawberries and even gooseberries. Strawberries are one of our garden's most anticipated crops and particular attention is paid to their welfare; in return we receive a generous harvest in June and early July. However, this pampering contrasts greatly with the treatment the raspberries receive, which is best described as neglect. It wasn't always the case, though...
The first raspberry (Rubus idaeus) canes were planted about a decade ago on previously fallow ground that I'd added home-made compost to. I specifically chose two varieties that carry the RHS's Award of Garden Merit (AGM)– the summer fruiting ‘Glen Ample' and the later cropping ‘Autumn Bliss'; eight canes of each in four rows. I even rigged-up a frame with fence posts and wire to support the summer-fruiting canes, which are more rigid and can get damaged by wind if not trained.
Initially, I persevered against the bindweed, nettles and scutch grass that thrived – thanks largely to my homemade compost – at the base of the canes. I pruned as instructed – cut off spent wood from summer-fruiting varieties and cut all canes to their bases for their autumn counterparts. For me, this was quite a rigorous regime but it reflected my strong desire to grow raspberries.
A some stage roughly four years ago, however, we reached a tipping point where the bindweed, nettles and scutch grass began winning. The summer fruiting canes were the first perish, the old unpruned wood and the frame I'd fashioned were perfect for bindweed to cling to and eventually smother them.
The fate of the autumn fruiting varieties is less certain as they behave differently. Much more so than their summer cropping counterparts, the autumn fruiters send out ‘suckers' from their roots. The convention is to remove these if they appear more than one foot (30cm) from the main row.
Failure to do this means you end up with lots of feral raspberry canes that fruit in mid-summer and no longer conform to straight rows. They'll even pop up beside the pond or in a neighbour's garden. If you have the room, I say let them thrive – for a few years at least – sharing the fruits with the birds. It's as far from the textbook method and yields will be relatively low, but maintenance is zero and the only hazards tend to be nettle stings and wet feet from the morning dew when picking.
If, however, space is more limited and you'd like to go down the conventional route, choose an open sunny site and break up the soil before adding plenty of organic matter. Create a support of up to 5ft (1.5m) if growing summer fruiting varieties, planting the canes 18 inches (45cm) apart. Raspberries will also do well in containers for up to three years as long as they're kept well watered.
Among the other varieties worth considering are the early summer fruiting and heavy cropping Glen Moy' (another AGM), which sometimes produces a bonus autumn crop the new canes. ‘Leo' and ‘Polka' are wonderful late-fruiting varieties. Use a high potash fertiliser throughout the growing season to encourage more fruit.