Forage the hedgerows for free fruit and nuts

Top tips on harvesting seasonal produce from the garden from RHS Horticultural Advisor Caroline Mazzey

Rose hips

Caroline Mazzey and some wild hawthorn ready to harvestMixed hedges are surprisingly fruitful, but hedgerow fruit doesn’t need to be grown on a large hedge. For example, to make it easier to pick elderflowers and berries, I prune my Sambucus nigra (common elder) to a manageable size. You may need more than one bush if you’d like elderflower cordial but don’t pick all the flowers, as there could
be enough berries to make elderflower wine too!

Harvesting hips

Our wild rose (Rosa canina) is pretty in flower, but it’s the hips at this time of year that shine out. Be careful when picking these, as the stems are particularly thorny – I advise wearing gloves. To maintain them, prune out some of the oldest  stems low down, in late winter each year, which encourages new growth from the base.

They can be trained to a supporting fence and make a useful barrier in your garden or allotment. Rosa canina only flowers for a short time, but don’t deadhead it as you’ll lose the hips! They’re ripe from September onwards but are softer after a light frost. Since the timing of this can’t be predicted, freeze them before making your rosehip syrup.

Choosing berries and nuts for picking

Crataegus monogynaHawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) is a lesser used berry, known as haw. There are huge quantities in your average allotment or field boundary, so I’ve never felt I needed to grow my own. Perhaps less planted in towns is the sloe, or blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), which is famous for sloe gin. They are found in hedgerows all over the country.

However, if you would like to have your own supply, both hawthorn and blackthorn can be coppiced. When plants have established, at about three years old, remove a third of the oldest stems at ground level each winter to encourage replacement growth.

Corylus avellana 'Gustav's Zeller'The same pruning method is used when growing hazel nuts or cobnuts (Corylus avellana). Bear in mind, these are much bigger shrubs. Grow these singly or make a traditional nuttery grove, if you have the room. Put a net over them in summer, or pick them when they’re green if you want to save them from squirrels.

Try growing buckthorn or blackberries

For an unusual treat, sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) is a brilliant choice for quick-draining sandy soil and coastal locations. Like the others, it makes a thick hedge but can also be coppiced for ease of picking. To do this, cut down a third of the stems, keeping an open ring of shoots – this makes avoiding the thorns easier.

Be careful where you plant them, as they do tend to sucker. With male and female flowers on separate plants, you’ll need one of each for a successful harvest, however one male will pollinate several females. The beautiful orange berries come in huge numbers, are rich in vitamin C, and make a lovely ketchup.
  Lastly, it’s been a particularly good year for blackberries. Although there are plenty in hedgerows come late summer and early autumn, many of the newer commercial selections are much more productive. It’s hard not to favour these garden cultivars – especially when they’re less thorny.

Train the new stems to wires stretched horizontally and they’ll produce fruit next summer. Once the old stems have stopped making berries, cut them out completely at the base. Happy growing!

A word of caution

Correct identification of fruit is important. If in any doubt, do not eat. RHS members can contact RHS Gardening Advice for help with plant identification.

Pick of the crop

Look for the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM) when buying vegetable seed or small plants. You can also download the RHS lists of recommended cultivars.

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About the author - Caroline Mazzey
I’m an ex-lecturer turned RHS Horticultural Advisor and triple allotmenteer, aspiring to be self-sufficient. My core job is to try to help RHS members with their gardening dilemmas but as a scientist, I can’t help pondering what we think we know about plants and soil. My motto is ‘think like a plant’.

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