Berry Cousins

    • Plant seeds of broccoli, cabbage, lettuce and other spring vegetables now.
    • Plant strawberry plants now for delicious strawberry shortcake this summer.
    • Apples and pears are the easiest fruits to grow in our area. Choose early, mid-season and late varieties for a continuous harvest from late summer into winter.
    • Primroses, in their rainbow of colors, will light up your flower beds and boxes this winter and spring.
    Berry Cousins

    Lingonberries have been a gourmet staple in Sweden, Norway and Germany since the time of the Vikings. Europeans are wild about lingonberry jams, juices, syrups and liqueurs. For a pancake syrup, their flavor is excellent. Also known as mountain cranberry or foxberry, this berry is little known in this country.

    The pea-sized fruits have a strong red color and a tasty, tart flavor. They have unusually good keeping qualities, up to 8 weeks under refrigeration. Berries and leaves of the bush are used for medicinal purposes and, eaten raw, they are good for the digestion.

    The lingonberry, Vaccinium vitis-idaea, is a wonderful ornamental plant. The bright red berries and bright evergreen foliage make it attractive year-round. It is a creeping, ground-cover plant growing 12 to 16 inches tall. It needs constant moisture and partial shade and will make a handsome ground-cover under rhododendrons. They are closely related to cranberries and blueberries.

    In Northern Europe the lingonberry is found commonly growing in the pine forests. It is very hardy, and prefers a cool location. They also like an acid and gritty soil with a pH of 4 to 5. When planting, amend the soil with generous amounts of peat moss and sand and be sure the soil is well-drained. When given the right conditions, they will form a solid mat which shades the ground and provides its own mulch.

    The pinkish white, bell-shaped flowers come in clusters in early spring and produce dark red berries which ripen by late spring or early summer. The plants are very disease-resistant.

    Lingonberries also make attractive container plants. As a potted ornamental, it fruits in the fall of the year, and the red berries set against the green foliage are very showy. Find a spot in your garden for this intriguing, edible landscape plant.

    A close cousin to the lingonberry is our native huckleberry, Vaccinium ovatum. This lovely shrub has small shiny leaves that are dark green above and pale green underneath, with copper-colored new growth. The spring flowers are particularly attractive. They hang like clusters of pink, urn-shaped bells very much like heather or manzanita blossoms, to which they are related.

    Huckleberries make excellent landscaping plants since they have such attractive, glossy, evergreen foliage and showy edible fruit. They are good for anchoring soil and flourish in sun or shade with some summer watering and good drainage. They like acidic soil that is low in organic matter, and tolerate everything from sandy soils to clay, and are drought tolerant once established. One inch of organic mulch will keep them happy.

    Evergreen huckleberries are excellent plants for creating wildlife habitats. The flowers attract butterflies and the berries are eaten by scarlet tanagers, bluebirds, thrushes, and other songbirds. Deer and rabbit browse freely on the plants. Because of their food value to wildlife and their dense shrubby growth, evergreen huckleberry is a good addition to hedgerows.

    In fall, the plants are covered with delicious, juicy, purplish-black berries. They are delicious fresh and also make excellent jelly, pies, pancakes and muffins. They can also be frozen and used for up to 6 months.

    Edible plants can be important additions to your landscape, providing beauty as well as tasty and healthy treats for your family.

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