Spruce up your garden with these flowering, fruiting shrubs
Why do we cling to rigid rules when it comes to deciding what goes where in the garden?
We often assume that fruiting and nut-bearing woody plants and vines must go into the orchard while vegetables and nonwoody plants like strawberries and raspberries go into the food garden. Pretty flowering or visually interesting plants — annuals, perennials, vines, shrubs and trees — are consigned to the ornamental garden and borders.
The truth is, an integrated garden is more interesting. It’s time to mix it up. Nature has developed a whole spectrum of fruit-bearing shrubs that we can mix into our landscapes, ornamental gardens, and even our food gardens. Talented horticulturists have selected and hybridized many of them over the years to produce types with superior flavor or larger size.
Let’s take advantage of these treasures and site them here and there. Why not some blueberries in the foundation plantings that cover up the house-ground interface?
Got a shady part of the yard? That’s the perfect place for our native West Coast Huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum). It’s sold at Buckeye Nursery in Petaluma and California Flora Nursery in Fulton.
Check with either or both of those nurseries for the following fruiting shrubs, or choose one-stop shopping by visiting Rolling River Nursery at 319 105th Ave, in East Oakland, an organic nursery that carries them all.
If they’re out of stock, their online catalog (rollingrivernursery.com) has a space where you can insert your email address and they’ll notify you when the item is available.
Blueberries grow from 3 to 6 feet when mature, depending on the variety. They’re never better than when you pick them at peak ripeness right off the bush. They produce the most fruit when planted with a second, different variety as a pollinator.
Bush cherries yield the best when planted in a trio of three varieties. The bushes grow to 4 feet and produce tart Montmorency-like cherries in late summer that make the best cherry pies. And, if you like sour fruit, eat a few out of your hand.
Chilean guavas are small evergreen shrubs that produce fragrant white flowers followed by red fruit with that tangy guava-like flavor. They’re great for fresh eating, jams and jellies.
You don’t need a bog to grow cranberries, but the soil does have to be rich in organic matter and kept moist, so plant these low-growing trailing bushes where you can water them once a week during our summer drought. They have pink flowers in spring and red berries in the fall, just in time for that turkey.
Black currants have a rich, musky flavor. They tolerate our climate but don’t fruit abundantly like they do where winters are freezing cold. Red currants do better here, and their fruits have a zingy, tart-sweet quality that is fun to gobble fresh or that makes a beautiful jelly.
Elderberries do best with a separate companion variety nearby for pollination. They grow to about 10 to 12 feet when mature and produce masses of sweet-smelling flower clusters in spring that make superior pancakes and elderberry fritters. The flowers are followed by masses of blue-black small fruits. You can eat them out of hand, but they’re best pressed for the juice that can be fermented into wine, mixed with vodka to make an elderberry port, or made into syrup or jelly.