My gardening skills are mediocre, at best. Sometimes my plantings are successful, but more often than not, I get aphids or white flies, the cats pee on the lettuce, or I neglect to water something and rediscover its dried twig skeleton after it's too late to revive. Between taking care of my kids, walking the dog, and, oh yeah, working, tending the garden is an afterthought. This is why I like independent plants. I love growing tomatoes and roses because they can persevere for a few days, even when I forget to water them. I also like old fruit trees that seem happy without any care other than the occasional winter pruning. My new favorite plants, however, are my raspberry vines. They are able to thrive with little tending and I get the payoff of lovely little sweet berries.
My love for growing berries started about ten years ago when my husband and I bought our house and discovered a rambling blackberry patch just beyond the cement of our driveway. Each summer we were given the gift of hoards of dark juicy blackberries. I say gift because we did little to deserve them. We would only minimally cut back the bushes in the winter; just enough to be able to walk past them without getting caught and trapped in a thorny mess. I never tied them up and, I'm embarrassed to say, I didn't even water them. Every July we would then have enough berries to can several jars of homemade jam on top of the numerous berry crisps and pies I would bake. But then a sad thing happened: we remodeled our house and the city forced us to shore up our driveway with a cement curb. This made our backyard look less decrepit, but it covered our lovely prolific blackberry patch.
Now, my backyard is not huge. It's not even medium-sized. By most standards, it's on the smallish side, and much of it is cast in shade by the surrounding detached garages (my own and my neighbors') and some towering wild plum trees by the back fence. The driveway was pretty much the perfect spot to grow berries, but that spot has been overtaken by the aforementioned city-mandated cement block. About two years ago, in a moment of berry desperation, I convinced myself that the opposite corner of the yard, which gets only filtered sun, might grow fruit. It was this turn of events that led me to our local nursery in search of berry vines. As the blackberries sat in a bunch with the raspberry vines, I decided to purchase both varieties. It took only a moment to discover, however, that you can actually get thornless raspberry vines. Although I love blackberries, I adore raspberries just as much and the idea of not getting thwacked in the face and arms by jagged thorns was pretty enticing. The planting directions advised setting plants a couple of feet apart. As I had only a small planting area, I decided to purchase only one thornless raspberry vine to see if it would grow in the new location. After planting it, I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. Little did I know that a couple of years later, I would have a ten-foot spread of healthy vines, laden with ripe raspberries.
Right now, our raspberries are ripening on a protracted schedule, which is just fine with me. Each day we have about ten mature berries. My daughters love going outside, standing in the raspberry patch, and talking about their day while they gobble up the day's ripened crop. Although we don’t have enough raspberries to make jam, we have enough for a snack each afternoon while we hang out and chat. I also have hopes that in a few years, as the vines age, we'll have enough berries to make pies and jam. Raspberries grow on the previous year's canes, so each year you get more "old" vines for the next year's crop. This is why I don't care that the patch is growing beyond its designated area. It's starting to overtake the camellias, but as far as I'm concerned, those camellias only give flowers, and I'll take berries any day instead.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the yard, our blackberry vine has popped up about twelve feet from its previous location in a small open area near our back porch. It's the beast that won't die, and that's just fine by me.
Following are some links to find more information on growing raspberry or blackberry patches. I think they suggest a bit more work than is necessary, but then again, I'm a minimalist when it comes to gardening effort.
Note: Thornless blackberries are also available for purchase. They didn't have them at my local nursery when I bought my raspberry vine, but I've seen them since then.