Contact Elisabeth Ginsburg

I have just finished reading The Lost Gardens of
, a wonderful book by [fill in name] Smits. The story, which is true
down to the last botanical name, is about the rediscovery and renovation of
Heligan, a 19th century estate in Cornwall. Like many other landed
estates at the time, Heligan was almost completely self-sufficient, with the
various gardens and fields supplying everything that was needed to feed the
inhabitants. Not only did they grow essentials, but a wide array of exotic
fruits, including pineapple, which was grown special pits heated by fermenting

Of course, Heligan also had many different “pleasure
gardens” full of ornamentals, but it is clear that the author is especially
interested in the productive gardens. The author is at his most inspiring when
he describes the melons, which were cultivated in the old fashioned way with
each fruit growing in its own net hammock. While I have no immediate intention
of growing melons, in hammocks or otherwise, I have always harbored a secret
ambition to be a fruit farmer.

Over the years I have grown strawberries in the one
and only bed my husband has ever double dug, and raspberries. When we started
with raspberries we had one slender cane. When we moved from our old house we
had about twenty, and that was only because we pruned ruthlessly from time to
time. In the back of the upper garden of my new house, there are two small
trees, slender in form, that look for all the world like those dwarf columnar
apple trees that are advertised in some of the catalogs. The trees have apple
blossom-like flowers in spring, but have yet to set fruit. I don’t know
whether the problem is lack of light, lack of pollination, or lack of the
appropriate care on my part. One of these days I will do the research, and
hopefully, harvest some fruit. In the meantime, I covet other people’s
peach and apple trees, not to mention currant bushes. But what I have wanted
the most is a blueberry bush.

I am attracted to blueberries because they are both
deliciously edible and wonderfully ornamental. At the Van Vleck Garden in
Montclair, New Jersey, Howard Van Vleck created an allee of blueberry bushes
that leads from a formal garden in back of the house to a more naturalistic
area that is home to Mr. Van Vleck’s prized rhododendrons. The Van Vleck
blueberries are as handsome as any of the more widely used ornamental shrubs,
with fruit as an added bonus.

Blueberries are members of the genus Vaccinium, which
also includes cranberries, huckleberries and bilberries. They start the growing
season covered with pink blossoms. Summer brings the dark blue fruit, and when
fall arrives the leaves of some cultivars color brilliantly.

Since my blueberry bush has to fit in a relatively
small space, I have order one of the dwarf varieties, ‘Sunshine
Blue’. Although the catalog does not elaborate on its species, it might be
a dwarf form of Vaccinium corymbosum, the High Bush Blueberry. Hybridizers have
used this species, that is found in the wild from Maine to Florida, to produce
all kinds of cultivars for the home garden. The catalog prose promises that my
plant will limit its growth to about 3 feet high and 3 feet wide, and pollinate
itself. Though I will have the satisfaction of harvesting the fruit, I
won’t have the joy of watching the leaves turn. ‘Sunshine Blue’
is an evergreen variety.

I already have the acid soil that blueberries like,
and I will install my little plant in a sunny space near the birdbath in my
back garden. I know that when the time comes, I will have to cover it in
netting to keep the birds away. I will probably end up doing what I used to do
with my raspberries—throwing the net on until I get tired of eating
blueberries, baking blueberry muffins and freezing the extras, then taking the
net off so the birds can get what they are entitled to.

I expect that if I succeed with my ‘Sunshine
Blues’, I will want even more fruit in my garden. I don’t really have
the room for raspberries, or for the wild blackberries that spring up unbidden
by one corner of the house. Maybe a cranberry. There are cultivars available
that don’t require a bog to flourish. The thought is entrancing. It’s
just possible that two or three Thanksgivings from now, I will be enjoying my
turkey with cranberry sauce made from my own fruit.

Yellow Rose

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