As you build your children’s garden or are expanding your own gardening efforts to find specimens that will please the young ones in your life, I present these five fruits for the children’s garden for your consideration.
Five Fruits for the Children’s Garden
The best part about including fruit in your children’s garden is that fruit is good to eat. Duh. Growing fruit usually conjures up images of large orchards and bug management issues but growing fruit doesn’t have to be too complicated. Here are a few kinds of fruit that you might ponder planting all at once or over time. Remember my advice from our Five Annual Vegetables from the Children’s Garden post – if you don’t have children in your home, make friends with some in your neighborhood or congregation. You need to garden with kids – its good for the soul and good for the world.
These strawberries are their own variety of strawberry. Though smaller than the berries you may be used to, Alpine strawberries grow easily and are actually considered a groundcover because of how well they can fill in an empty space. They’re practically disease free and oh-so-tasty! We grow a red and a yellow variety; the yellow tastes like pineapple and the red tastes pretty much like a regular strawberry. At harvest time, smooth your hand over the plants and you’ll come across clumps of ripened berries just ready to be plucked off and added to your homemade pancakes or fresh summer salad. These berries are the perfect size for small children right down to curious babies – my eighteen month old has already figured out how to tell which ones are ripe and which ones aren’t. Its in her nature to be careful and I love watching her tenderly poke at each one to see if its soft.
Alpine strawberries are so cool that Stella Otto included them in the strawberry section of her very useful book, The Backyard Berry Book. I was sent a copy of this little gem by the publisher for review and I was happy to do it! The thing I like about Otto’s books is that they’re straightforward and thorough. I miss inviting graphics (I’m sucker for pretty pictures), but there are some fine illustrations to go along with quality explanations. I also like that Ms. Stella includes conventional and organic/sustainable options for plant care and pest management – I get so tired of reading gardening literature that hasn’t stepped into the 21st century and realized that not everyone likes to douse their plants in chemical concoctions. I digress. Otto’s book The Backyard Orchardist is a great one if you have fruit trees, fyi – follow this link for our review (that was a personal copy that was just too awesome not to let you know about). These books are meant to be used again and again as references and they do, indeed, end up out in the garden with me all the time. I need to contact the publisher about creating a water proof version. The five year old and I may have left my berry book out by the strawberries and I think I hear the sprinklers running right now.
To learn more about Alpine strawberries, follow these links: Renee’s Garden – Alpine Strawberries – A True Luxury from the Garden; Dave’s Garden – Edible Landscaping and Alpine Strawberries; Tulips in the Woods can’t get hers to produce fruit (I can’t think why – we’re drowning in berries, especially where there’s part shade/afternoon sun. I dunno.) but she has a great idea on what to do with the leaves that are high in Vitamin C!
Alpine strawberries grow on the ground, while grapes require a trellis of some kind because they’re vines. Unlike a fruit tree, grapes will produce within the second year of planting. Sometimes the first year, although I advise against letting them produce fruit that first year because you want all their energy to go into developing strong root systems. You’ll want to read up on grape growing because there are some specific things to know about their care – particularly how to prune the vines and how to keep them healthy. They’re not maintenance free BUT grape vines produce grapes and grapes are delightful. White, green, purple, red varieties and you can choose between seeded and seedless. There are the classic flavors like Concord that tastes like the color purple and the mighty Muscadines that have the strong flavor of the Great Smokies. You’ll need a place that’s permanent in your garden for grapes because they’re perennials – which means they live year after year. We have a seedless Concord taking over the willow house in the children’s garden as we speak; its a gorgeous vine so I’m letting it have its head.
The Backyard Berry Book has a whole section on grapes and will, literally, tell you everything you need to know to become a successful grape grower.
I was first introduced to gooseberries when I lived in Russia, where they call them ‘little watermelons’ because their shape and coloring resemble that tasty fruit. Gooseberries are staples in European gardens but they should have a place in our North American gardens, as well. There are tart, mouth puckering varieties or sweet varieties that are wonderful for eating out of hand. They do sport thorns, so very little ones will need to be watched as they learn not to grab stems and be careful when harvesting – berry rakes are helpful for bringing in the berries. I have a very European bent on having thorny plants in my garden – the world is full of thorns and kids should learn how to deal with them early on. We need to be grateful that thorn bushes make gooseberries and not whine because we get a prick or two. Besides, if you grow gooseberries, you can make gooseberry jam. Making jam with kids is a great enterprise and gooseberries make a killer jam – I will happily taste test your first batches!
Gooseberries are in The Backyard Berry Book, too, because this book is thorough in its presentation of all things berry!
To learn more about gooseberries, follow these links: Blue Viola Farm tells us to just go for it; Love the Garden has a nice layout of info on the gooseberry; Life on the Balcony can even tell you how to grow them successfully in pots!
Ever hear of hardy kiwi?! Another vine, hardy kiwi don’t have that fuzzy skin like the kiwi most of us find in the store; you can eat hardy kiwi whole, with the skin on. The fruit off this vine is like kiwi flavored grapes! They typically grow in zone 5-9, which means you can grow them even if you have cold winters. You may need to wait awhile before you enjoy large harvests, fyi. I like having plants that require patience from both the kids and from me – patience is a virtue I sorely need! The vines are vigorous, though, regardless of when they come into fruit production and they can create a garden wall or privacy screen when trellised. Again, you’ll need something to trellis this vine onto to keep it off the ground and growing where you want it. You’ll need a male and a female vine to set fruit but any nursery that sells the one will certainly sell the other.
Anna from Northern Homestead says of hardy kiwi, when asked why she chose to grow it – “Apparently they grow here, that’s why. There is not a whole lot of fruit that grows here. Yes, they will be a bit overwhelming, maybe not as bad in our short growing season, but we plan to shade our driveway with them, I like the idea too. They will need a stable structure to hold on too, buildings are not recommended.”
Oh, and just FYI – kiwi growing is covered in The Backyard Berry Book, too. You don’t have to be intimidated by fruiting vines because they’re really not trickier than anything else you’re growing. Honestly, growing vertically (anything) is such a convenient, tidy way to organize your garden. I trellis as much as I can to make the best use of the space – beans, winter squash, grapes and kiwi all can find a home on a sturdy, vertical structure like a pole or pergola.
To learn more about hardy kiwi, visit these links: Organic Gardening – Kiwifruit for every garden; This Garden is Illegal has an all around fun post about Hardy Kiwi; If you know someone with a vine, you can propagate kiwi by taking softwood cuttings, so says Walden Effect – they will take longer to fruit, just so you know.
Dwarf Apple Tree
A tree is an investment, to be sure. However, dwarf trees offer good sized harvests on pint sized trees, compared to their massive-forty- foot-full-sized brothers. If you need a fruiting tree that’s more narrow, you can try a fruiting columnar tree that can be grown in a large pot on a deck. Columnar trees are usually as tall as a dwarf trees (6-8 ft) but they’re typically only two feet wide – a great deck tree! The best part about any of these dwarf type trees, apart from the fact that they produce apples, is that they’re short enough that the kids can learn to prune and care for them. You won’t need a full sized orchard ladder for these trees so there won’t be any fears of little ones plummeting fifteen feet to broken necks. I don’t know what it is about apple trees in particular but they are simply magical; my children go out and pet and croon at our apples trees, making sure they know they’re loved. You can find any fruit tree grown on dwarf rootstock to make it smaller (plums, apricots, cherries – anything!), so you don’t have to stick with apples but, I’m telling you, children love them!
I have purchased most of my edible plant stock for many years now from Raintree Nursery. They’re not an affiliate but only because they don’t have a program; I love, love, love this company. They have wonderfully unique options for the organic, backyard gardener. They offer varieties that are meant to thrive in various zones so you’re sure to find something that will suit you.
Bottom line, don’t discount fruit from the kiddos garden space! And don’t be limited by just these five fruits for the children’s garden – there are plenty of others for you to explore. If you decide on berries of any kind, I would heartily suggest picking up a copy of Stella Otto’s The Backyard Berry Book. Be very wary of sprinklers, though.
Vintage Image in title graphic is from Old Design Shop
This post was shared at Mamma’s Moments