Posts tagged ‘berries’

November 17, 2012

National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin, November 17th 2012

by Ciaran Burke

A beautiful sunny day in the National Botanic Gardens. I was there with students today. Lots of nice autumnal colour, some flowers and fruits too.

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October 4, 2012

Autumn Fire – early autumnal morning in our garden

by Ciaran Burke


A cool start, a foggy dawn. The mellow light tinted the milky haze of fog rising from the earth, too beautiful for even the wind to disturb. The usual west of Ireland wind stayed respectfully still and silent. As the sun sleepily woke and rose over the horizon the fog dispersed to the air, leaving a residue of pearl droplets over the grass and foliage. In the most sheltered corners the grass crunched, a frost beneath my feet. A perfect morning to enjoy the autumnal splendour, late flowering Helianthus, H. ‘Miss Mellish and H’ Lemon Queen’, sun flower relatives facing to the east, awaiting the sun, helios worshippers waiting for the apparition of a sunny morning.

Helianthus ‘Miss Mellish’

Tilia henryana in the morning light

White berries of Sorbus koeheniana, dripping  wet pearls, precious beauties. Cercidiphyllum japonicum, its leaves scenting the air with burnt sugar aromas and Aronia shrubs burning with beauty.  Then arriving through the kitchen door, fresh scones steaming, straight from the oven… you cant start a day much better than that!

Sorbus koeheneana berries

Aronia arbutifolia

Cercidiphyllum japonicum

Home made scones

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March 11, 2012

Gaultheria berries, some are good to eat

by Ciaran Burke
Gaultheria berries with yogurt

Gaultheria berries with yogurt

Some G. mucronata berries are quite tasty with some home made yogurt and brown sugar! Or enjoy them as a nice treat when in the garden. It is great to be able to pick a handful of berries and munch them while taking a break from weeding in the garden.

The small, narrow, dark evergreen foliage is densely packed along the stems, each little leaf ending with a short spine.  Masses of small white nodding flowers are produced in May, creating a cloud of soft white over the branches. In winter plump berries replace flowers, decorating pots and borders.

The berries remain on the plant for such a long time, already on show in September they will be looking good right through winter until late spring. Like marbles, they clutter the stems, the colour range from white to mulberry-purple. Named cultivars are sometimes offered for sale but more usually they are just sold incorrectly labelled as pernettya.

Gaultheria mucronata -red

The flowers of P. mucronata are dioecious, meaning that male and female flowers are borne on different plants. This is important to know if you expect to have berries on your plants.

One male plant should be sufficient for a group of  about 8 female plants. A low growing male cultivar called ‘Thymifolia’ is a good choice as a pollinator especially where a neater growth habit is favoured. There is a hermaphrodite plant which produces bright carmine-red berries called ‘Bell’s Seedling’ which is an Irish cultivar. One solitary plant can produce berries without the need for the company of a pollinator.

The edibility of Gaultheria mucronata berries is a subject clouded in confusion, with some texts stating that all members of the genus have poisonous berries.  I have eaten them, enjoyed them, and survived!

It is known that South American natives have valued the berries for their taste and health benefits.  The texture of the flesh is somewhat watery and the skin dryish, but it is not unpleasant at all. Recently I was tasting some of the berries in our garden, a friend was with me and we noticed that berries from one bush in particular had a far stronger and better taste than the others, while another had no taste at all. Selection of individuals for their flavour is something that could be worked on. What is quite amazing is how long the fruits stay and remain good quality onthe plants, from autumn until now in March.

Gaultheria mucronata - deep pink

Gaultheria mucronata - deep pink

Let the fruit ripen well so that the flesh is soft when gently squeezed. Be careful though, plants offered for sale are usually grown as ornamentals and not grown as fruit plants. Due to this fact there may be insecticides incorporated with the compost. Whether or not the plants have been treated with pesticides should be confirmed first before tasting the berries.

G. mucronata which hails from Chile and Argentina, was relatively unknown to gardeners from its introduction in the 1830s until plants raised by the Co. Down nurseryman T.Davis of Hillsborough were exhibited in London in 1882 and attracted attention. He showed plants which he had raised and selected over the previous 30 years. Sadly most of these cultivars are probably lost to gardeners of today but there are many others to choose from. They require acid soil, they are ideal for ground cover or can make attractive outdoor pot plants.

This text is an extract from an article (edible ornamental berries)  in the current issue of Organic Matters, the magazine of IOFGA (Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association) available in news agents countrywide.

Gaultheria mucronata -white

November 8, 2011

Sea buckthorn berries make good jam!

by Ciaran Burke

Top Fruit, Soft Fruit and Strange Fruit

I was getting ready to do a talk to the North Mayo Garden Club today, and as I was going through my presentation I remembered that I had a few pots of delicious apple and sea buckthorn jam left. Sea buckthorn berries are a super health food; one small berry can have a Vitamin C content equal to that of six oranges, packed with atioxidants and a number of omega oils, it is a wonder fruit. It is also a wondeful tasting berry. Eaten straight from the bush it may be a bit sharp for many peoples’ tastes, but blended with juices or as an ingredient in cooking it is delicious, unique and colourful.

Sea Buckthorn berries - Hippophae rhamnoides

The first of our bushes that we planted gave us a good crop this year, or to be more specific the female plant cropped well. We originally planted two varieties, Rudolph, a male to pollinate, and Raisa a female to fruit, both purchased in Finland while on holidays three years ago. Last year we had a few berries but this year we have lots in the freezer and enough to make jam. We have since planted five more female varieties, we are sure Rudolph will be up to the job, and are looking forward to great crops in the coming years.

To make the flavour of this year’s berries go further, I  mixed the berries with apple to make jam. It turned out great, it is one of my favourite jams, sea buckthorns are one of my favourite berries. Below is the recipe that I used for the jam. I am going to take  a jar with me to my talk tonight so that people can have a taste of sea buckthorn, for most it will probably be their first time. Perhaps some gardeners might be inspired to grow these great plants.

Apple and Sea Buckthorn Jam

Jar of home made Apple and Sea buckthorn Jam

900ml of sea buckthorn berries

3 litres of peeled and chopped desert apples

1 Kg of sugar

300 ml of water

1. Cook the berries, water and apples over a low heat for about fifteen minutes or until the apple is soft.

2. Slowly add the sugar, stirring well to ensure the fruit dissolves.

3. Turn heat up and cook the jam for about fifteen or twenty minutes.

4. Spoon the jam into sterilized glass jars and tighten lids immediately. (Wash used jam jars with soapy water, then dry off and place in cold oven an heat to 100 degrees celcius).

North Mayo Garden Club, talk tonight Tuesday 8th of November- Top Fruit, Soft Fruit and Strange Fruit- a talk by Ciaran Burke. Venue Merry Monk, Killala Road, Ballina, Co. Mayo, Ireland. 8 pm.

Talk will also be given to Claregalway  GIY on Wednesday 23rd November at Arches Hotel, Claregalway, Co. Galway at 8 pm.

April 18, 2011

Autumn Pudding with White Chocolate Sauce

by Ciaran Burke

It all started with a trip to a nursery. We went to purchase named female cultivars of our favourite berry plant, sea buckthorn, Hippophae rhamnoides. The nursery is Fruit and Nut, part of the Sustainability Institute in Westport, Co. Mayo.

We had selected three different cultivars, we already have a female plant and one male plant in our garden. We also had picked out a Jostaberry, a hybrid between a blackcurrant and a Gooseberry and two cultivars of Cornelian cherry, Cornus mas. We were chatting with Andy, the mind and the energy behind the nursery, sharing our enthusiasm for berry growing and the concept of woodland gardens when he asked us where we lived. As I described how to get to our garden he stopped me, and asked in disbelief if we knew his friends, they lived very close to us. Apparently they also shared a common interest in woodland gardening, we did not know them yet. he gave us their contact details and directions to their house, he was sure that they would want to meet us.

On our way home we decided to call in and meet our neighbours, people that lived so close to us with a common interest in gardening and woodland gardening in particular, yet we had not ever met them. We drove up their lane and parked outside their house. They were surprised to see a caller, we introduced ourselves, explained what had happened at the nursery. They asked us in. Cy and Cleo invited us to a “pudding evening” the following Thursday. “Pudding” is a term that English people use to mean dessert, not literally a pudding. We could make and bring anything as long it went along with the theme of Italian or Chocolate. We accepted.

What to make was the question. I decided to make an autumn pudding, from the freezer I could use elderberries, blackberries and sloes, all picked from the hedgerows in our locality last autumn. I had a cooking apple there too, and Hanna had been baking lots of spelt bread. We had all the ingredients, but to fit in with the theme of the evening gathering I would have to make an amendment; cover the finished autumn pudding with white chocolate! The tanginess of the fruit and dark colour of the pudding would both contrast with the sweet white chocolate, Green & Blacks would be perfect, not only organic but also they have a generous amount of vanilla pod in their white chocolate.

We made the pie the night before. Cooked up the fruit, sweeten with honey and fruit juice concentrate. took the crust off a number of slices of the homemade spelt bread and soaked them shortly in some apple juice. In a bowl we poured the cooked fruit and then pressed in the bread torn into pieces. Covered it and placed it in the fridge overnight. The following morning we made the white chocolate sauce.

One bar of chocolate was finely chopped. In a saucepan we melted a knob of butter, added 200ml of cream and heated to near boiling. This we then poured over the chopped chocolate and after letting it sit for a couple of minutes we stirred the mixture to fully melt in the chocolate pieces. After allowing to cool a bit, we spooned the chocolate sauce over the pudding. It looked fantastic, the creamy sauces dripping over the dark pudding, collecting in a pool around the base.With strong resolve we resisted having a taste and returned the dessert to the fridge.

We had a lovely evening with our new friends, and met more of theirs. Everyone had brought a dessert “pudding”. We tasted each others creations, sipped elderflower champagne, drank coffee and chatter. A lovely evening, four desserts and good company, does not get much better than that!

Autumn pudding with white chocolate sauce

Autumn Pudding Recipe

This recipe I had originally included on my other blog LINK


  • half cup of Stoned sloes
  • half cup of elder berries
  • 1 cup of blackberries
  • half cup of apples, peeled and cored
  • 150 ml of apple juice concentrate or 7 heaped teaspoons of honey
  • whole grain spelt bread, crust removed and cut into pieces

After the fruit has been cooked for about ten minutes transfer to a bowl and press the bread pieces into the mixture until the fruit is pulp is absorbed. Cover the bowl with a plate and place in the refrigerator over night.

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