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Best trees and shrubs for an Appalachian forest garden

Grapes in the forest gardenFive years ago, Alice and Dudley started putting in edible perennials in their large backyard, at the same time that their neighbor Robert did the same.  Walking through their gardens was a bit like reading through those catalogs I drool over, full of fruits I'd heard of but had never seen in the flesh, like goumi, jujube, and more.  Other unusual plants were familiar from my own garden, where they haven't had time to achieve their full potential.  Since most of Alice, Dudley, and Robert's perennials were old enough to fruit, I was Guomi budscurious to see which ones had been exciting (or disappointing) surprises in a climate much like my own.

First for the big disappointment.  Both Alice and Robert told me that their gojiberries never fruited.  In our climate, the variety they planted (and which I have in my own garden, a gift from Alice) blooms so late that the fruits never have time to form.  Meanwhile, the thorny shrub takes over the garden.  Robert has plans to root out his gojiberries this year, and after hearing their experiences, I think I'm not going to give mine the extra grace year I'd promised it and will follow suit.  There's no room in a working garden for an underachiever.

Alice was also somewhat disappointed in her bush cherries, noting that the fruits were small and seedy, so they were tough to pit for cooking.  Robert mentioned that his jujube hadn't produced fruit in five years.  And Alice's jostaberry hasn't fruited in that time Fig and hardy kiwi along south-facing side of houseframe either, although she mentions that the problem could be shade.  Other non-fruiters included Rosa rugosa, Japanese walnut (although nuts take longer and this plant still has hope), hardy kiwi, plum yew, and paw-paw.

 Meanwhile, I picked the gardeners' brains about their top perennials --- ones that produce delicious fruit with little work.  Traditional fruits were at the top of each list --- ever-bearing red-raspberries and thornless blackberries for Alice and a peach and Asian pear for Robert.  But so were some less usual fruits --- both agreed that their Asian persimmon (Eureka) and goumi were tops for flavor and ease.  It sounds like I might need to add some of both in our own garden.

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This post is part of our Real Forest Gardening lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I remember paw paws doing incredibly well on the old farm. I'm wondering if the fact that they were planted on the hillside, in full sun made a difference for them. I seem to remember them being a bit late fruiting, even there. I love the Japanese persimmons, though I still crave the tiny sweet variety that I used to forage foe in TN. We get the crunchy Fuyu and giant Japanese kinds at farmer's markets and stores in the Bay Area. Looking forward to hearing how things progress!
Comment by Jay Mon Mar 7 14:52:39 2011
If I hadn't felt like the post was already too long, I would have added a caveat --- there are so many variables that I don't think it's worth ditching most species just because they don't grow well in Alice and Robert's gardens. The gojiberry is the only one I'm giving up, since I'm growing the exact same variety and it's been acting the same in my garden as in theirs. But I wouldn't be surprised if other people did quite well with paw-paws (especially if you live in a more creekside habitat like we do.) Anywhere paw-paws grow wild is a good place to consider introducing an improved variety.
Comment by anna Mon Mar 7 16:27:47 2011

I have a goumi planted under my paulownia tree here. Every year we get a slew of fruit, even though we give the tree absolutely no attention the other 11 months of the year. We use it to make Goumi liqueur

And our Persimmons- we have an enormous Hachiya astringent persimmon tree that gives us hundreds of fruit each year- when we can reach them! I love to dry them and have them with tea. But when we are too late picking them and they get gooey and soft, you can't beat persimmon bread.

Comment by Eric Tue Mar 8 04:47:05 2011
I guess these fruits, which we think of as unusual, are ordinary over there? Fascinating to hear what they're used for in Japan.
Comment by anna Tue Mar 8 08:31:36 2011

I've had a goumi on my todo list for a couple years now -- ever since an Organic Growers School Class on oddball fruit (Chuck Marsh from Useful Plants).

Got those raspberries & blackberries in the ground today, THANK YOU! :) I'm so excited about them.

Comment by Eliza @ Appalachian Feet Tue Mar 8 13:20:30 2011

I'm pretty sure that Chuck Marsh is the one who tempted both Alice and Robert to get guomis too. I almost picked one up at the Grower's School, but they'd already sold out!

You're very welcome! I hope the brambles produce as well for you as they do for us!

Comment by anna Tue Mar 8 17:04:34 2011

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