Plant blueberries in December, reap the rewards next year

James Wong
Photograph: Claire Higgins/Getty Images

If you want to enjoy fresh fruit next year, this is the best time to plant fruit bushes. Of all homegrown crops, they provide by far the biggest reward in return for effort involved. Not only is the fruit expensive to buy in the shops compared with the modest price of the plant, they come in all sorts of weird and wonderful varieties that would never pass the shelf life and standardised appearance requirements of supermarket buyers. This means you can put flavour as top priority.

And how little work these perennial species require, compared with the annual routine of starting most kitchen garden crops from scratch. But, given our ever-shrinking gardens, perhaps the best news is that if you get your species choice right, fruit bushes can blend in seamlessly with ornamentals, meaning you don’t have to pick between two opposing garden looks.

So, without further ado, here is my guide to the ultimate horticultural multitaskers…

Queen Victoria’s favourite: Chilean guavas. Photograph: Paul Williams/Alamy

Sales of blueberries are said to have quadrupled in recent years, yet few people know just how easy they are to grow at home. Domesticated at the beginning of the 20th century, they still contain much of the wild vigour that meant they could thrive in the poor, acidic soils of the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Give them a sunny spot on ericaceous soil in pots, beds or borders and they will do just the same for you. Aside from summer fruit, the bushes produce a pretty flush of white and pink flowers in spring, before turning vermillion red in the autumn. Their ability to hold their dazzling autumn foliage for far longer than other species known for autumn colour means there is already much interest in breeding them just for ornamental use. At RHS Wisley there is a plot that has been fertilised for 20 years and, despite being barely pruned or watered, still offers a great harvest. ‘Bluecrop’, ‘Bluejay’ and ‘Patriot’ are all particularly good at putting on an autumn show.

Next up, you have to try the purple raspberry ‘Glen Coe’. Technically not a raspberry but a complex hybrid of bramble species, it offers sensational wine gum-flavoured fruit amid its beautiful, silvery, glaucous foliage. It’s mercifully thornless, too, but it’s a vigorous grower, so will require enthusiastic summer pruning to keep it in check. It’s certainly worth the effort.

Finally, if you are in a milder, wetter part of the country, I implore you to give Chilean guavas a go. Hailing from the temperate rainforests of Patagonia, they are one of the few fruits to perform significantly better in shade. This blueberry relative can kick out more than a kilo of dusky pink, highly aromatic fruit per plant in summer. It is said they were Queen Victoria’s favourite fruit, and look like wild strawberries crossed with candyfloss. In the garden, the shrubs look like box plants with small, glossy, evergreen leaves. They have scented white flowers, unbuyable fruit and total immunity to the dreaded box blight. Talk about having your fruit and eating it!

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