At the time of year when Wimbledon is in full swing, evenings stay light until 10pm and there’s nothing more satisfying than a BBQ in the garden accompanied by a bottle of light summer ale, there’s one fruit on the minds of allotmenteers – the humble British strawberry.
For those of us of younger generations the true sweet, flavourful taste of a homegrown or wild strawberry may have eluded us. We’re so used to supermarket strawberries, available all year round, over sized, pale in colour and pumped with water to the point at which they have only a vague whisper of flavour or to the anodine, fake flavour of strawberry sweets, strawberry yoghurts and ready prepared desserts. Nothing we’ve experienced from even the very best supermarkets can match the true flavour of a strawberry fresh from the plant.
It’s almost difficult to comprehend that something as special as a strawberry, something considered a treat with cream, something which is used as a garnish to make a dessert feel extra indulgent could thrive here in Britain where conditions mean we could never grow a good banana, much less a decent pineapple. But the strawberry is one of the few soft fruits that even the novice gardener cannot just manage, but do really well, even in the smallest of spaces.
If you have a bed to give over entirely to strawberries do so. There are so many ways to use them – from eating straight from the plant while pottering to making strawberry jam with them – that a glut is soon used up. However if your garden is small consider using a special terracotta pot designed especially for strawberries or indeed just a normal flowerpot. For more inventive use of space try growing strawberries in a hanging basket or window box. With little space to spread container grown strawberries won’t keep you fed throughout the summer but they will fruit well, providing you with a handful of delicious desserts.
When planting strawberries pick a proven variety that you know will provide an abundance of fruit which is not only plentiful but tastes good. Try Maxim if you love a huge, juicy strawberry or stick with Cambridge Favourite which is grown in the majority of fruit farms. Honeoye is a popular variety with firm, bright red fruits while Irresistible has undoubtedly the sweetest flavour. There are also varieties that prefer containers or have the best levels of disease and pest resistance. Choose a few different varieties based on the time they fruit and you can continue your crop throughout summer and even in to autumn.
Ensure strawberries are planted in well-drained soil to prevent rot and in full sun, sheltered from wind. If planting more than one keep plants 13″ apart, water in well and use slug pellets or other slug repellent if not planting in baskets. Wherever you grow cover your plants with netting to save fruit from hungry birds and squirrels and be sure to pick ripened strawberries immediately to make sure they don’t rot on the plant.