Brian Minter: High antioxidant plants can thrive in our climate
Unfortunately, as interest in growing your own food continues to grow, we are overlooking some of the healthiest and most beautiful fruits of all. We may have a few blueberry plants in our gardens, but their stronger, high antioxidant cousins are rarely planted.
The Vaccinium family is without a doubt one of the leading organic food plant series. Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) are a prime example. Author Lisa Petty, a renowned nutritionist, points out its amazing health benefits in her book The Beauty of Berries. She also explains how they are helpful in preventing kidney stones, tooth decay, and dental plaque, and also prove useful in the fight against cancer as they aid the process that feeds cancerous tumors.
Cranberries are not necessarily bog plants, but thrive in high quality, well-drained soils. Cranberry plants grow to be around eight to ten inches tall and spread out in thick mats, making them a great option for an evergreen ground cover. The beautiful bronze winter leaves are particularly attractive.
Hundreds of tiny flowers in spring turn into huge, deep red berries in autumn. I know from personal experience that a couple of frosts will increase your brix sugar reading so that they will taste far less spicy when consumed. According to Petty, cranberries are among the best whole foods and are high in fiber.
Cranberries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) are native plants that grow in many parts of Canada and the United States. Very popular in Europe, many hybridized varieties are grown on a large scale. As berries with high antioxidant content, they are used in jams, jams, jellies, and sauces, and like cranberries, cranberries are used in the baking industry. In Scandinavian countries and Germany, they are grown both commercially and as a popular plant in home gardens.
Vaccinium ‘Koralle’ is a lingonberry that originated in Germany and grows to about 15 inches tall and wide. It is one of the main varieties in both old and newer plantings. It has a medium to large berry with a sour to sweet taste.
Vaccinium ‘Red Pearl’, a cranberry that grows slightly larger (up to 18 inches tall and wide), has medium-sized to large berries that have a sweet, sour taste. On average, each mature plant produces about one to one and a half pounds of berries.
I think cranberries are an important missing item in a lot of gardens. They require excellent drainage to prevent root rot or phytophthora. To keep the soil open and porous, I always mix a ratio of fifty percent fine fir or hemlock bark mulch into each planting hole. Lingonberries are evergreen, have a long flowering period, and their red berries begin to form in mid to late summer, which makes them extremely colorful.
They share many of the same medicinal properties as their cranberry cousins, but are less well known due to the challenges of harvesting them on a larger scale. However, they are a “must” in the garden.
Vaccinium parvifolium is a deciduous, high-growing blueberry variety that occurs from the Sierra Nevada in California to Alaska. It has showy, tasty red berries that are great for jellies and jams. It loves shade, but unfortunately it is not a great garden specimen.
However, Vaccinium ovatum, known as the “evergreen bilberry,” is a wonderful garden plant. It is native to Santa Barbara, California and along the British Columbia coast. It is a hardy Zone 4 plant. When grown in a sunny spot, it can be three feet tall and wide, but in a natural shady spot it can reach ten feet. It has small, glossy leaves and white flowers even in spring. Black berries form in late summer and last like cranberries all winter. The berries taste hot, but like cranberries, they sweeten well with subsequent frosts. It looks fabulous year round and belongs in any area where azaleas and rhododendrons would thrive, and like its other vaccinium cousins, it needs very good drainage.
A blueberry variety called ‘Thunderbird’ is the product of a previous plant introduction program at the University of British Columbia. It has all of the medicinal properties of cranberries and cranberries, but is rarely seen commercially due to the difficulty of harvesting small berries.
All of these vaccines are great for use in containers – they are evergreen and attractive all year round. They love the same acidic soils that bark has been mixed into the mix, and they just need a little slow-release fertilizer to keep them looking their best. I often plant them with winter-blooming heather, not just for added beauty, but because when the heaths bloom in mid-spring they will attract pollinators that will fertilize the vaccinium flowers. We can easily make our containers and gardens healthier and more attractive by planting those forgotten favorites, vaccines.