Expanding Your Arbor Choices: Trellis Blackberries

summer 08 riderwood pix 014 225x300 Expanding Your Arbor Choices: Trellis BlackberriesThis year, I wanted a change!  Instead of planting traditional arbor plants around the trellis’ in my front yard, I wanted something a little more substantial, that would feed both myself, and the songbirds I’m desperately trying to attract to my city home!  As part of my “green journey,”  one of my goals is to use multi-purpose plants to provide food, beauty, and function in my garden, while fitting into the tight space I have allotted to me.  I also want to use native plants as much as possible, to support the local eco-system, and to save myself time and money, by planting plants that are known to be hardy in my location.

When I first moved into my current house, my family brought me a tiny Blackberry plant that was a descendant from the crops of my great-grandparents farm in Maine.  Knowing how hardy the American native Blackberries are in my little section of the East Coast, I was excited that the first addition to my new fruits and veggies patch be a low maintenance plant. Happily burdened with the historical significance of the plant, I made sure it lived through the droughts of last year, and that it provided me with enough berries to top a celebratory Ice cream float!

This year, with all the rain we have been receiving, the plant was growing so fast I could hear it’s progress through open windows, so I decided to do something a little unusual with it.  I placed it in a raised planter with a square framed trellis around it, and taught it to climb up the sides, weaving it through the arched top as well, to provide me with maximum berries, with minimal thorn pricks.  Generally, Blackberries grow on sturdy stems that are covered in thorns from all sides, so harvesting berries from the interior sections of the plant can be tricky.  The stems, left on their own in the wild, will grow in three foot arches, which only means that it is a solid, woodier, and easily shaped trellis plant, than many non-native plants available in garden superstores.  Blackberries need no tying up, or excessive fiddling, to keep it attached to the trellis.

With Trellis Blackberries, I can do three key things:

  1. Provide Food: I can maintain a smaller part of the shrub for my own food harvesting, in a bed raised above the reach of mammals, and protected by netting from  birds,  while leaving the upper portions of the plant on the trellis available for birds.  This attracts the wildlife I want to my yard, providing them with natural food sources that don’t cost me a cent!
  2. Add Beauty: Spring and summer, the plant sends out clusters of small white flowers, that once pollinated, will provide fruit through the late summer. This translates into visual interest around the arbor from spring through summer.  The shrub, also is a hardy one, that provides a solid, and easily maintained green color from early spring, through late fall.  It also will attract pollinators, and songbirds to your yard, which makes gardening all the more enjoyable, and “green,” providing for the local eco-system.  This is a great way to keep your berry bushes neat and tidy too, if you are working with a small yard, or even a balcony garden.
  3. Fulfill A Function: The native Blackberry works well in fulfilling it’s roll as a an arbor plant, providing seasonal greenery, without the care that comes from “training” up other flowering-but-floppy arbor vines.  A trellis provides greater, and easier access to the fruit as well, since the plant is growing on a structure, and not just in a tangle of thorny branches.

I’m happy with what I’ve harvested so far this year, and I’m encouraged to be able to add home grown blackberries to my summer food supply.  Being an outdoorsie person too, I hope that the nutritional benefits of the berries will not only meet my dietary needs, but also fulfill a roll in my overall health, and skin care regimine.

Your Thoughts: Have you tried any new ways to incorporate fruits and veggies into your garden design?