1. Gooseberries – a few facts about the gooseberry plant
A close relative of currants, this hardy shrub tolerates some shade, and it bears fruit in July. Flowers form at the base of the previous seasons’ wood, and on spurs on this wood. The flowers are self fertile and insect pollinated, so you need only grow one bush. To extend the season, berries can be picked before ripe for cooking. If left to ripen they become much sweeter, when many need no cooking.
See an extensive range of gooseberry plants on our online garden centre
Wild plants of the gooseberry (Ribes uva-crispa) grow in various parts of Europe, including Britain, although it’s not certain whether those here are truly wild or descended from early introductions. Whichever, the fruit has been popular since Henry V111’s time (1500s) for preserves, wines and desserts.
2. Gooseberry growing tips from a champion
Copyright (c) A. Scaresbrook ( ) : Kelvin Archer inspecting the crop and looking at possible show entries.
A crop to be proud of
It’s surprising what you can coax out of a gooseberry bush with some tender loving care. These tough plants are often left to their own devices but champion gooseberry growers of Cheshire and Yorkshire leave little to chance.
Most of us are content with a good crop of fruit – served fresh or cooked for delicious desserts. But gooseberry society growers are different – they vie with each other to grow the heaviest berry of the year.
Although few of us aim to break records, it’s worth taking heed of the advice and experience of the competitors, including world champion grower Kelvin Archer, head gardener at Rode Hall, near Congleton, Cheshire.
How did he grow the heaviest gooseberry in the world, and for each of six years grow the heaviest in mid-Cheshire? It boils down to common-sense cultivation…and a few showman’s secrets. So what tips is he prepared to divulge?
‘Gooseberries need spacing of at least 1.5m (5ft) in a good soil that retains the moisture,’ he told us, ‘After all, the fruit is mainly water. So I mulch with farmyard manure in winter, which also helps keep weeds down. If you can’t get hold of farmyard manure, then garden compost will do the same job.’
‘I prune all the gooseberries in November. For the culinary ones, I keep them to an open framework and shorten the side shoots to encourage fruiting spurs.
‘Around January/February time, I add some slow-release fertiliser – blood, fish and bone – that’ll last them through the season. Gooseberries grown from cuttings should produce a good crop for culinary use from their third year onwards. Most carry on producing good crops for years and years, but it does depend on the variety.’
Pests and diseases
‘I spray for aphids if it’s necessary, and keep an eye out for mildew too. The gooseberries that you buy from the garden centre are fairly resistant, but our show varieties are very susceptible. Once the mildew spreads to the fruits, it forms a skin over the berry and restricts its growth so that eventually it bursts. So once flowering’s finished and the bees have moved on, I spray with a fungicide to stop the mildew spreading.’
The sweet taste of success
And which is Kelvin’s favourite recipe for his bumper berries? ‘I don’t like them at all’, he laughed, ‘the varieties I grow are far too sweet.’ Perhaps the fact that he’s not tempted to pick an early crop for the table is his secret of success?
Growing for showing
At the time of writing, there are no residency rules for membership of gooseberry societies, so anyone can try their hand at growing and showing.
3. Where to see gooseberries
Shows in Cheshire – contact Congleton Tourist Information Office (tel:01260 271095) for more details.
Kelvin Archer’s winning plants – in the kitchen garden of Rode Hall, Cheshire, which is open to the public on certain days.
National Collection of 144 cultivars of gooseberries – Brogdale Horticultural Trust, Brogdale Rd, Faversham, Kent, ME13 8XZ (tel: 01795 535286).
National Collection – Rougham Hall Nurseries, Ipswich Rd, Rougham, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, IP30 9LZ (tel:01359 270577).
Where to buy gooseberries
The more common cultivars (‘Leveller’, ‘Careless’, ‘Whinham’s Industry’ and ‘Invicta’) are easily tracked down at garden centres, fruit nurseries and online (e.g. Thompson & Morgan).
Other cultivars: try the RHS Plant Finder for sources, which include the following mail order nurseries:
R V Roger, The Nurseries, Pickering, N Yorks, YO18 7HG (tel:01751 472226) – 64 cultivars.
Rougham Hall Nurseries, Ipswich Rd, Rougham, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, IP30 9LZ (tel:01359 270577).
J Tweedie Fruit Trees, Maryfield Rd Nursery, Maryfield, Nr Terregles, Dumfries, DG2 9TH (tel:01387 720880).