In a recent column in the Washington Post, Joel Lerner identified some plants with edible berries that he likes to use in his residential landscape designs, and promises readers that they’ll “grow to become both ornamental and tasty.” The first is the Kousa dogwood, which I’ve grown for years and had NO IDEA they had edible fruits – for humans, at least. But here’s the lowdown on their berries:
“As the cherry-sized, berry-looking fruit ripens in fall and softens, the inside turns red and has a sweet taste. Peel the skin and enjoy the juicy fruit, which is surrounded by two or three seeds. Harvest when fruit is ripened to just the right texture.” So, I’m watching for the ripening and softening and will be tasting my very first dogwood berries any day now.
As an ornamental plant, Kousa dogwoods (also known as Korean dogwoods) are admired for their dense clusters of flowers and their lovely horizontal form. They’re also quite drought-tolerant and resistant to the Anthracnose disease that afflicts so many of our native dogwoods.
Another recommended berry is the fruit of Hardy Kiwi (Actinidia kolomikta), which Lerner describes as: “A tough, woody, entwining vine requiring a solid support. You’ll want two, a male and female, to produce the small grape-size clusters of fruit. It requires full sun for fruit production and is perfect grown along a deck or on a trellis by the patio, making harvesting easy.”
This is another one I’ve grown for years – about 15 years, in fact – but I have yet to see a single fruit on my three vines. I know, I know, you need to have a male and female, and they need to be planted close enough for pollination to happen. I sure thought I had at least one male and female, planted near each other, so for lack of any other explanation I’m blaming some long-ago erroneous labeling as to gender.
But then the problem could also be how I prune them, according experts I’ve consulted at the National Arboretum. They cut theirs back hard every year, then let them grow to their heart’s content along the sturdy trellis in the photo above, and are rewarded every year with a huge bounty of fruit, which they pluck and eat in the garden or take home and serve with their morning cereal. I’m so jealous.
Hardy Kiwis also come in an even prettier version, the pink, white and green speckled variety above right, called ‘Arctic Beauty’.
Despite my disappointment over the lack of fruit, I still love how the vines soften the look of the large deck that spans the back of my house. Just one problem – they’re soooo vigorous, growing easily a foot a week, that to keep them from taking over, they needs to be trimmed regularly. So when people comment on this plant – and everyone loves it! – I warn them that without regular pruning “They’ll eat the house,” which isn’t as much of a whopper as you might suspect.
Lerner also recommends Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas), downy serviceberry and jujube – again, three plants I’m unfamiliar with as sources of edibles. Gotta try ’em!