Over a year ago, I brought back from the UK a packet of organic gooseberry seeds, picked up from a garden centre. Dutifully planting these seeds in a plastic plant tray (one of the cheap and ugly green ones found everywhere around this country), the 40-odd seeds slowly budded and become little plant-lets. The soil was a mixture of home-baked compost and garden centre fine potting soil – maybe the stuff with tiny polystyrene balls in. The argument for using these is that they aerate the soil, which allows roots to spread easier and prevents the soil material from clogging; but of course, ultimately millions of these polystyrene balls aren’t good for the environment, and will eventually get into water and wildlife. So try to buy bagged soil with mulched bark in instead.
A dozen of these baby plants went to a fellow green-fingered friend. The needs of her fleshly baby took priority, and the wee gooseberry seedlings sadly went to the great compost-maker in the sky.
The rest I nurtured paternally, fretting every time we went away for a few days, and calling in favours from friends for regular watering duties. Some remained to grow in pots,(the seedlings, not the long-suffering friends) and others went into a large flowerbed at the back of the house, which is regularly fertilised with each seasons fresh compost (see earlier posts: ‘Mulch, rot & reinvigorate: composting part 1’ and ‘A half empty bin & some worms: composting part 2′)
Random garden accidents, cats and weather gradually reduced the seedlings to just one, but what a prince among plants this is, now after a year of delicate growth, slowly unravelling itself into a bush. There aren’t yet any fruit on the branches, but every time I inspect it I remember boyhood tastes of wild gooseberry jam, or plain stewed gooseberry and ice cream. This berry was common in my childhood, both in gardens, allotments and out in the wild, finding shelter in hedgerows along with blackberries, elderberries and sloes, with which a skilled and patient parent concocted sloe gin every summer – and left it to become a punchy winter liqueur.
These wild fruits have rapidly disappeared from the English countryside – pesticides and policies on the size and shape of hedgerows, country lanes and most places of wild wilderness, having eaten away this reality. Gooseberries found in British supermarkets and gourmet health food shops are often imported, and priced over most people’s budget.
So with all this in mind, I cultivate and nurture this bush outside, which is about 2 foot in height so far. Apparently they take about 2 years before bearing fruit, and even then the yield for the first growing season is low. Hazards to watch out for include fruit fly, including a variety called saw fly, birds with a sweet tooth, and in our case, warring cats.
I will be bringing more seeds back from my next trip (if anyone has a local source, please let me know), and nurturing the next crop sometime soon. If anyone wants to join me in the introduction of this fabulous fruit into Eretz Israel (perhaps this could be my contribution to the 60th birthday celebrations), get in touch. Perhaps peace through gooseberries is too much to hope for, but if you plant a seed, you’ll get first taste of a glorious gooseberry fool 2 seasons hence!