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.