Note: If you live in a very hot summer climate, skip Part A and proceed to Part B.

Part A. Perfect for Ambulant Consumption

Part A. It’s about time that gooseberries got some respect. The plants are easy to grow, they tolerate shade, are usually ignored by deer and birds, except my ducks, and they can have excellent flavor. They don’t do very well or yield the tastiest fruits in hot summer climates, hence “Skip to Part B,” although the coolness of shade can somewhat overcome that deficiency.
A bowl of fresh gooseberries
Gooseberry flavor is what eludes most people. And with good reason; relatively few of you have tasted gooseberries, let alone good-tasting varieties. The reason is that gooseberries belong to the Ribes genus, many plants of which are susceptible to a disease called white pine blister rust. This disease, also attacking white pines, need both white pines and susceptible Ribes plants to complete its life cycle.

When the rust showed up on American shores about 100 years ago, white pine was an important lumber crop so the U.S. government sought to control the rust be getting rid of all Ribes plants. Not only were gooseberries illegal to plant but if you already had gooseberries or currants, another Ribes species, in your garden, fellas from the Civilian Conservation Corps were apt to descent out of the woods into you garden to rip them out.

Long story short: Before the rust, gooseberries were an up and coming fruit, just like blueberries, which were relatively unknown except near where they grew wild. The ban was not as effective as was hoped. Disease could spread from the many wild Ribes haunt that our woodlands, and under the right conditions infective spores can be carried for hundreds of miles. On top of that, gooseberries and redcurrants are not very susceptible to the fungus.

The federal ban was lifted in 1966 and put under state mandate, but two generations of farmers and gardeners had forgotten about gooseberries. Relatively few states nowadays ban gooseberries.

Dessert (vs Culinary) Gooseberries

I once nurtured my own gooseberry variety collection of almost 50 varieties, a collection that now has been pared down to the most desirable dozen or so. I only grow what are known as “dessert” varieties of gooseberry, ones that have great flavor straight off the bushes. As Edward Bunyard wrote in his 1929 classic The Anatomy of Dessert, “The gooseberry is the fruit of course par excellence for ambulant consumption.”
Gooseberry varieties on bench
This growing season has, so far, been one of the best fruit years ever, so I’m taking particular note of ripening time and flavor of my gooseberries. (Like a fine wine, though, they do seem to have vintage years.) First to ripen here is the variety Canada 0-273; its main qualities are that the plant is always productive and yielding large and early fruit.

Canada 0-273 gooseberry

Canada 0-273 gooseberry

Next comes Poorman, an unfortunate name for a very delectable berry. Almost ripe now is Captivator, the variety I would grow if I were to grow only one variety. It’s delicious and pretty much thornless. 

Poorman gooseberry

Poorman gooseberry

Soon to ripen are Red Jacket, very reliable and productive, with good flavor, and Welcome. Welcome is still with me for sentimental reasons; it was one of the first fruits I ever planted, decades ago, and has traveled with me to my gardens from Wisconsin to Delaware to Maryland to New York. It’s flavor is very similar to “SweeTart” candies.

Following the above varieties is another variety that would be on a must have list. Hinnonmakis Yellow is yellowish-green when ripe and has a flavor that hints of apricot. Some people confuse it with Hinnonmakis Red, which has poor flavor, and whose real name is, I believe, Lepaa Red. Also soon to ripen is Black Satin which has a rich, wine-y flavor.

That’s not all of them but does give you an inkling of the merits of the most significant ones. There are literally hundreds of varieties of gooseberries, spurred in part beginning in 18th century England, by gooseberry competitions, held usually in local inns, to see who could grow the largest fruits. The gaiety of singing and refreshments at these shows was offset by the solemn weighing of fruits.

Those gooseberries were bred strictly for size. I plant for flavor. Did I mention, pest problems of gooseberry? Powdery mildew and leaf spot diseases are potential problems but all the varieties I mentions are resistant to these diseases.

For more about the growing, the varieties, etc. of gooseberries, see my book Grow Fruit Naturally.

Part B. Some Mulberries are Better than Others

Part B. Some kind of mulberry can be grown just about everywhere. Here in the Hudson Valley, we have wild or cultivated red mulberries, which are native, white mulberries, most of which were imported from Asia in the early 1800s, and hybrids of the two. Don’t expect the color of a tree’s fruit, despite even the botanical names, Morus rubra and M. alba, to tell you what species you have before you. Many “white” (M. alba) mulberries or their hybrids bear black fruit.

To throw yet another wrench into the nomenclature, there’s yet another species, M. nigra or black mulberry, with black fruits. I consider black mulberry to be among the best-flavored of all fruits, not just mulberries. Unfortunately, it’s not hardy here. I grow it in a pot.

Black mulberry, M. nigra

Black mulberry, M. nigra

Most years birds get just about all my mulberries; not this year, perhaps because of an abundance of other fruits. So I’ve been getting a good taste of them.

I find the flavor of most wild mulberries cloying. Not so for the two varieties I grow.

I, along with many others, have lent high praise to the variety Illinois Everbearing, often likening its flavor to that of black mulberries. This year I’ve reconsidered; Illinois Everbearing fruits are better than the average mulberry you might see growing in Eastern North America, but not nearly as good as black mulberry. Illinois Everbearing does live up to the “everbearing” in its name, yielding berry after berry for weeks on end.

Illinois Everbearing mulberry

Illinois Everbearing mulberry

My other variety is Oscar. It’s delicious, with a nice balance of acidity and sweetness.

Oscar mulberry

Oscar mulberry

Other years my impression of the two varieties has been different. Perhaps mulberries and gooseberries have vintage years that influence the flavors of particular varieties.

I actually grow one more variety of mulberry, Pakistani. This is yet another species, M. Macloura, that was once considered a kind of white mulberry. Pakistani, like black mulberry isn’t hardy here (probably hardy to Zone 7, perhaps colder) so I grow it in a pot. The fruit is delicious and large, sometimes as much as five inches long! My potted tree’s fruits are only an inch and a half long, but they’re as delicious as black mulberries. Different flavor though.

Black Pakistani


Every time I go near my apple and plum trees, I feel like my Nanking cherry, mulberry, pawpaw, and persimmon plants are laughing and flaunting their fruits at me. Nanking cherry and company are just a few of the fruits that I grow that require virtually no care.
Apples, on the other hand: If you wanted to come up with the most difficult fruit to grow east of the Rocky Mountains, it would be apple. Or plum, or apricot, peach, nectarine, or sweet cherry. The plants actually grow fine; getting fruit is another story. Organically grown fruit, that is.
Apple fruit, already damaged by plum curculio
The reason these common tree fruits are so difficult to grow around here is because of insect and disease problems (and, in the case of apricot, peach, and nectarine, winter cold and late spring frosts). For an insect or disease to cause a problem, three conditions need fulfillment: The presence of the insect or disease, a susceptible host plant, and an environment congenial to the insect or disease. I mulch my apples and plums with wood chips, prune away diseased stems, grow nectar-producing flowers to attract beneficial insects, spray organic concoctions such as kaolin clay, let chickens run loose beneath the plants, blah, blah, blah; and for all that effort, still often reap little or nothing. 
Problem is that the northeast is home to some serious insect and disease problems of apples and company and the environment is much to these pests’ liking, as are the plants. Resistant varieties might be resistant to diseases but not insects or to one disease but not another. No variety is resistant to all the insect and disease pests lurking in forest and field.
Nanking cherries, no need to spray or even prune!
Still, most people, when they consider growing fruit, think first of apples, and then plums, peaches, and other tree fruits familiar on supermarket shelves. In fact, though, there are a slew of other fruits, many of them, like Nanking cherry and company, very easy to grow. As I point out in my new book, GROW FRUIT NATURALLY (Taunton Press, 2011), the first step in growing fruits naturally/organically/holistically is to select those that are naturally well-adapted to the local climate and insect and disease pressures.
This all-important planning step does not preclude growing many common fruits. Pears, for example, both European and Asian varieties, are relatively easy to grow around here. The trees do need pruning but usually can be grown without the need for any sprays, organic or otherwise. With thousands of varieties, pears alone could round out your larder. I grow about 20 varieties.
Berries are also relatively easy to grow. Pruning is important both for good production and to help keep diseases and insects in check. My berry plantings include raspberries, blackberries, black raspberries, gooseberries (more than a dozen varieties!), red currants, black currants, clove currants, elderberries gumis, seaberries, lingonberries, lowbush blueberries, and, my favorite, highbush blueberries. Pest control? I spray insecticidal soap on my gooseberries once, just as the leaves unfold to kill any imported currantworms that may be starting their leafy feast. I mulch my blueberries late each fall to bury any infected berries that could spread mummy berry disease the following spring. And that’s about it for pest control on all my berries.
Still not enough fruit? Well, there are the mulberries. Not run-of-the-mill mulberries, such as grow wild all over the place. But named varieties — Illinois Everbearing, Oscar, and Geraldi Dwarf — selected for their high quality fruits. And cornelian cherries, an excellent stand-in for tart cherries, except much, much easier to grow. They bloom around the first day of spring yet never fail to set a good crop of fruit. The same can be said for Nanking cherries, a hedge of which lines my driveway and is now yielding many more sweet-tart cherries than I, birds, squirrels, and chipmunks could possibly eat. Total effort involved for all these fruits? None.
And the list goes on: pawpaws, persimmons, hardy kiwifruits, juneberries, grapes . . . so many fruits, so little space. The grapes get bagged to keep insects, diseases, and birds and bay.
(Actually, in my microenvironment, juneberries do not bear well because of various insect and disease problems. The solution? I don’t grow them. But as I wrote, that still leaves plenty of fruits that can be grown easily and without any significant pest problems.)
So why do I grow apples and plums? I grow them because I frequently write about fruit growing. I grow them to supplement my “book learning” with what I observe “in the field” (in other people’s “fields” also). I grow them because when I apply all the right sprays at just the right time and the weather cooperates and insect and disease pressures aren’t too, too bad and all the stars align just right, I harvest some very tasty apples.
My pawpaws and hardy kiwifruits
Would I suggest others to plant apples, plums, or possibly peaches, apricots, nectarines, or sweet cherries? Probably not, unless said person was interested in learning a lot about fruit pests, spending a lot of time and no small amount of money dealing with them, and then was willing to accept the fact, as Charles Dudley Warner wrote, tongue-in-cheek and over a hundred years ago in MY SUMMER IN THE GARDEN, that “the principle value of the garden . . . is to teach . . . patience and philosophy, and the higher virtue – hope deferred, and expectations blighted, leading directly to resignation, and sometimes to alienation. The garden thus becomes a moral agent, a test of character, as it was in the beginning.” All well and good if that’s what you want from planting fruit.


Hints of spring are evident even in the dark corners of my barely heated basement. There, buds of potted roses and pomegranate plants are starting to sprout. Some gardeners — including me — overwinter potted figs in such places and their early sprouting also can cause concern. So far, only a couple of pomegranates and roses are all that have sprouted from among the 20 or so plants in my basement.

And what are all those plants doing sitting down in my basement? Some, including the pomegranates, figs, and black mulberries, would shrivel up and die from our usual winter cold. The plants are in pots that each autumn are I carry downstairs from outside after their leaves have dropped. Other plants in the basement menagerie are normally cold-hardy, except that they are in decorative pots within which roots, which are not nearly as cold hardy as plant stems, would freeze to death if left outdoors. Larger or better insulated pots would offer roots more protection from cold.

The problem with early sprouting in my basement is that there’s little light down there. New stems on the roses are pale, stretched out, and tender “etiolated). When the plants can finally be moved outdoors, those sprouts, unaccustomed to bright light and wind, will dry out and die. If the plant has not invested too much energy in the sprouts, new sprouts can develop. Ideal conditions, for now, would be cool temperatures and the brightest possible light — preferably before the new sprouts appeared.
The pomegranates are special varieties so they get first-class treatment: into the greenhouse they go, even though space there is at a premium. The pomegranate buds were just unfolding so the bright light should not burn them.

The roses are more cold-hardy and not so special; they went into the garage where there is some light and, more importantly, it’s a lot colder than the basement. The goal is to hold back growth as long as possible while letting some light fall on what sprouts slowly develop.
The figs in the basement aren’t yet acting like it’s spring. The buds are swelling slightly but are otherwise still folded closed. The goal is to keep them that way as long as possible with minimal watering. 

It’s still too cold in the garage for these plants, whose stems tolerate temperatures down in the ‘teens. Their roots, though, like those of other plants, would be less cold-hardy. I may end up moving the plants in and out of the garage, a sheltered nook of the terrace, and the mud room as temperatures fluctuate in coming weeks. Or perhaps I can find space for them in the greenhouse.

By April, everything in the basement should be fit to face the great outdoors.

Easiest to care for among the subtropical plants in the basement are the mulberries. Anyone who is familiar with mulberries might wonder why I would coddle them in pots in my basement. These mulberries aren’t the run-of-the-mill mulberries that sprout just about everywhere outdoors and bear good-enough tasting fruit that is a bit too cloying.

No, in my basement is a plant of the most delectable black mulberry, Morus nigra, a  species not cold-hardy outdoors here. To my taste, black mulberry — which the black-colored fruits you see around here are not — is perhaps the most flavorful of ALL fruits. Each fruit, although the size of a nickel, packs such a whollop of flavor, a congenial mix of sweetness and tartness, that you’d think it came from a fruit the size of an apple.

Two other mulberries down in the basement are there because I’m not yet sure just how cold-hardy they are and because, if cold-hardy, I still have to figure out where to plant them. Gerardi Dwarf is possibly a variety of white mulberry (M. alba), a very variable Asian species well-established in eastern U.S. and often bearing black-colored fruits also. (This variety is sometimes listed as Morus macroura.) Whitman Farms (, where I got my plant, states that the fruit of this particular variety is almost as good as black mulberry, the species, and the plant grows only 6 feet high, which makes picking and protecting from birds easy.
The other plant, Kokuso mulberry (M. latifolia) is supposed to be very cold-hardy and, as rumored on the fruit “grapevine,” very tasty. The plant is semi-dwarf and the  fruit, like the others, is dark.

The thing that makes all these mulberries easy is that they are late to awaken in spring. Mulberry’s generic name, Morus, comes from the Latin word mora, meaning delay. This sluggish start in the spring usually saves mulberry flowers from being nipped by late spring frosts, which makes mulberries bear very reliably and, as described in Fruit and Its Cultivation (1919) by Thomas William Sanders, “the wisest of trees.”