I recently wrote about growing your own antioxidant ‘superberries’ as part of a designed low-water landscape, and not just as part of the typical fruits and vegetable garden area. Another group of ornamental plants that fits this category and needs to be given more attention are the currants and gooseberries.
These plants are small to medium shrubs that are mostly drought-tolerant and, for many of them, adaptable to sun or filtered shade. Best of all these shrubs provide healthy edible berries while providing landscape interest, with some even giving nice fall leaf color.
Red Lake Currant (Ribes rubrum) is possibly the best choice for Colorado gardeners who are looking for a mild-tasting red berry. It prefers full sun, but benefits from some afternoon shade in hot summer areas. It matures to 3-4’ high and 3-4’ wide.
If you’re more concerned with ornamental criteria, the native Golden Currant (Ribes aureum) will fit the bill with its yellow flowers and red fall leaf color. Golden Currant prefers partial shade and low to moderate water conditions, and produces red to black berries that are most delicious when left to dry on the shrub to a raisin-like fruit. Its common name comes from the beautiful yellow flowers and it has an open, rounded form, growing 4-6’ high and 4-6’ wide.
Close cousins to the currants are the gooseberries. They are native to Eurasia, and grow as rambling shrubs with arching spiny branches. Gooseberry berries are larger than currants and sometimes have hairs on the skin. They are usually green colored, but some variants may range from red to deep purple. A recommended choice for Colorado is the Pixwell Gooseberry (Ribes uva-crispa ‘Pixwell’). Pixwell’s ½” size fruit are light green, becoming soft pink with maturity. The plant grows 3-4’ high and 3-4’ wide. Plant one of these in your yard so you can one day make a classic gooseberry pie!
Definitely consider making room in your landscape for a currant or gooseberry shrub. Many of them are well adapted to our dry Colorado climate, are moderately sized, provide ornamental interest and will reward you with antioxidant-rich berries to savor.
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