Changing opinions on a winter wonder

December 14th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

White-stemmed raspberry has lovely winter stems plus tasty berries

With gardening a rather soggy business recently, interest continues in The Floricultural Cabinet and Florists’ Magazine for December 1852, “conducted by” Joseph Harrison.

Each month, the good Mr Harrison includes Notes On New Or Rare Plants, details of which he unashamedly, and with appropriate credits, borrows from other titles. It’s a little like Amateur Gardening magazine quoting from a piece on new plants in Gardeners’ World magazine.

One of those discussed in December 1852, Rubus biflorus, catches my attention and so I’m continuing in the tradition of Mr Harrison by quoting details from his magazine here:

“This very handsome Bramble has been obtained from Nepaul by Mssrs. Veitch. It is quite hardy and very ornamental. The stems spring from the ground on clusters, like our common Raspberry, and attains a height of ten or twelve feet, erect, branched. The stems are very white, appearing as if they had been whitewashed. The flowers are produced in profusion, white, each blossom nearly an inch across; they are succeeded by well-flavoured fruit, as large as a usual-sized Raspberry, and of a beautiful orange or deep amber colour. It is not valuable for an ornament for the shrubbery, but would be a handsome agreeable-flavoured fruit for the table.” Thank you to the Botanical Magazine, from whom The Floricultural Cabinet sourced their information.

Problem is…. Firstly, “not valuable for an ornament for the shrubbery”? No. Rubus biflorus, and the related Rubus cockburnianus, are superb shrubs whose white stems provide invaluable bright winter colour.

But there’s a conundrum. I’ve never seen the amber fruits on R. biflorus because to produce the best display of white stems, and to keep the plants well below the mature height of 3-4m, the plants are cut down to the ground in early spring. And the stems you cut down are the ones that carry the berries.

So if you grow Rubus biflorus, or the black fruited R. cockburnianus – leave a few stems unpruned and check out the flavour.

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Is one of our best known gardening writers. A graduate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Graham was previously Gardening Correspondent of The Observer.
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