CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Even though they sometimes make her itch, my daughter loves berries. I have been researching ways to include berries in my garden, and I've gotten mixed reviews from my gardening friends.
Some say, "Oh, don't even attempt berries - they are so hard to grow!" Others say they are easy and can be squeezed into even the tiniest garden. I know I'm not attempting strawberries. They require lots of space and care, and produce only enough fruit to keep the slugs happy.
Garden writer Katherine Whiteside wrote about berry bushes in House Beautiful several years ago, and I clipped the article (obviously I wanted to do a berry garden several years ago). She suggested elderberry shrubs as a perfect plant for the back of a mixed border because they produce clouds of fluffy white flowers in midsummer. You'll need to plant two (for pollination purposes), and then sit back to watch the flower heads become voluptuous clusters of reddish-purple berries, according to Whiteside.
Elderberries need sun and fertile, moist soil. For the best foliage effect, either cut all shoots to the ground in winter or prune out old shoots and reduce the length of the young shoots by half. The American Horticultural Society's Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers notes, "All parts may cause severe discomfort if ingested, although fruits are safe when cooked; contact with the leaves may irritate skin." Well, I'll have to put them at the back of the bed, keep the dogs away, and make jam!
A couple of good elderberry varieties, available at www.2009-02-26ediblelandscaping.com, are cut-leaf elder (Sambucus nigra 'Laciniata'), with feathered foliage, variegated elderberry for green and white leaves, and 'Black Beauty' for a dark-leafed shrub.
My daughter loves blueberries (I guess it's because they bring out the loveliest rash of any berry she eats, but she eats them anyway). So I'm considering a highbush blueberry. They can reach 10 feet in height, make clusters of white flowers like lily-of-the-valley in spring, produce berries in late summer, and their leaves turn bright red in the fall.
One of the most common varieties is Vaccinium corymbosum 'Pioneer.' It requires full sun, prefers moist soil, and needs acidic soil.
'Duke' is a heavy fruiter known to produce 20 pounds of berries on one mature shrub, and 'Chandler' produces the large, cherry-sized berries over a six-week season. An early-season, heat-beating berry bush is 'MistyBlue,' and a good bush for a large container is 'Sunshine Blue.'