I am not fond of the taste of raw gooseberries. With their chewy skin covered by tickly hairs and their insides of hard seeds in a watery jelly, eating them fresh from the bush just doesn’t appeal. Cooking them with sugar helps greatly – even as a child I loved gooseberry fool – but they are still no match for the freshly-picked raspberry! Nevertheless, in our garden in France there are four gooseberry bushes that are very special to me.

Around forty-five years ago we inherited their forebears – some with red fruit, some with green, some with black. We had bought a tumbled-down cottage in Somerset and found a clump of well-established gooseberries in the garden. It is their progeny who have ended up in France but the journey took more than thirty years. This blog is their story.

Those gooseberries were amongst the first fruit plants we owned and when we left that Somerset cottage in the mid-1980s, my wife, Rohan, took cuttings from four of them to be planted in our garden in London. Ten years later we moved house and Rohan took cuttings from those, now-mature original four and planted these in our council allotment. Gardens were very much Rohan’s domain; as she planned, planted and nurtured, I was the labourer digging, building and mowing/scything.

Twenty years on and those same gooseberries, again as cuttings, were moved again. Our allotment was ‘re-allocated’ – the council did not see us as serious caretakers. Threatened by being neglected or worse, this time the plants, taken as cuttings, were destined for our cottage in France. Our treasured gooseberries had become, as Rohan put it, “refugees”.

The garden in France was in its infancy and the cuttings were hurriedly planted in a corner ‘out of danger’.  Around them old trees were felled, walls were built, an orchard was planted and raised vegetable beds laid. In all this, my gardening role changed; gradually I became a full part of the husbandry team. Yes, Rohan remained in overall charge, but she concentrated increasingly on the flowers and trees. I continued my labouring role but became much more involved with the vegetables and fruit.

During the years we have brought over several fruit plants from our various gardens. All have needed careful husbandry and, despite Treguennec’s sandy soil, fierce winter winds and salty showers, they have provided us with baskets of fruit for cooking, freezing, preserving or simply eating fresh. The pioneer migrants were a giant rhubarb root, some strawberry runners and cuttings from our black currants, red currants and also, of course, our gooseberries.

We also brought trees and these too have done well – witness the ten-metre high silver birch once growing in a friend’s garden in West London and the seven-metre high Douglas Pine found in a forest in Scotland. Neither reached as high as my ankle when they arrived!

Back to our four gooseberries; since their arrival they have now been transplanted – roots and all – twice. Despite all our efforts they fell prey to garden adversaries such as hungry birds and mice and some very aggressive fly larvae. We decided to give them one last chance and two years ago they were re-planted in the orchard. If they took, Rohan asked that I build around them a protective cage big enough for her to walk into, and to have a door that closed with a magpie-proof lock.

The transplanted gooseberries, accompanied by four, more recently-arrived red currants, all survived the move and work on their cage began. Designing and building took about four months. From my point of view the cage had to meet several key demands; it would have to be strong enough to withstand the winds, easy to repair, and have a structure that was transparent save for the various wooden struts which should have the feel of trees.

Just recently the cage was formally opened by Rohan who warmly approved. The resident gooseberry bushes; two green, one red and one black, look better than ever, as do the accompanying currants. After all their journeying and tenacity these four refugee gooseberries, which have been with us for almost all our married life, have earned their new home. They have, after all, shared our history and in such circumstances the taste of their raw fruit becomes unimportant.

The illustration shows the newly-built cage with its four gooseberry bushes at the rear and the four, more recently migrated, red currants close up. The cage is ten metres long, two metres high and two wide.

For helping me write this blog I would like to thank Rohan and Vivien.

13 thoughts on “A New Home for Refugee Gooseberries

  1. What a wonderful protective cage. I wish my one was like that. Did you say black gooseberries? The secret is to eat them when they are really ripe and soft. So soft the insides squeeze out. We have some fuzzy gooseberries but most are smooth.


    1. Dear Heather, We call them black but I suppose others might see them as very dark burgundy. Tasting then when fully mature is never easy. In the past it was often a battle with the birds. Joe


  2. Thank you. You write so evocatively. My Rohan and I, have a birds nest fern that we bought when we first moved in together nearly thirty years ago. It started in a small pot, and now lives happily under the eves of our back veranda, next to a former septic tank, which is now a pond. It’s a giant of its kind. It’s also a reminder of stability, despite the waves that appear from time to time in a relationship.


    1. Dear Mark, You are very generous. You are also right – gardens, well certainly their trees, have a stability. Flowers and bushes are much less permanent as they get swallowed up by weeds. The motto – for a long term relationship – plant a tree. Love to you and your Rohan, Joe


  3. Bravo, Joe! A magnificent structure … and a heartwarming story of continuity, tenacity, adaptation to change and productivity on the parts of the refugees, the guardians of the gooseberries and the constructeur. X


  4. What a lovely design for the fruit cage. It does look like trees. You are very good gardeners to have successfully propagated so many times. When one moves house, it can be hard to leave the garden, so this is a way of taking it with you. I am suprised to know that there are red and black varieties of gooseberry. Are the latter sweeter than the green variety? I have never considered gooseberries to be a candidate for raw consumption – but a sweetened gooseberry (in crumble, tart or jam) is something else.


    1. Dear Andrea, I am glad you liked the cage and it’s ‘trees’. Rohan has been remembering houses in this way for years. In fact, our gardens are full of memories. Black gooseberries are smaller, sweeter and ripen later than the others. I don’t dare advise you to try eating them raw! Love, Joe


    2. I do not think I have ever seen dark or black gooseberries. Must look for them. We have to net ours and even then the birds get some.


  5. How wonderful, I didn’t know you’ve created such an amazing ‘good life’ of fruit and vegetables..! I love gooseberries and as Heather says eating them fresh when they are soft and squidgy is a real treat, are you growing rapsberries as well?

    Goes without saying, your construction is to be admired Joe.


    1. Dear Carolyn, You are very generous. I will leave it to you to enjoy gooseberries raw! We are just coming to the end of our first raspberry season; we have summer, and autumn-fruiting varieties so there are more still to come.


  6. Dear Joe,
    I especially love this blog, due to the time we spent together placing the netting around the Gooseberry Cage. Hopefully I will spend time eating lots of fresh yummy Gooseberries when I come to stay again in Treguennec with you both very soon.
    Lots of love Grace.


  7. Dear Grace,
    Without your help it would have been very difficult to finish. Thank you so much. I often think of you when I see the join you darned. Much love and thanks, Joe


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