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Updated Saturday, November 10, 2012 at 02:54 AM

For fruit at your fingertips, think small

By Valerie Easton
Special to The Seattle Times

"Raspberries are the most innocent and simple of fruits, the purest and most ethereal."

— from Henry David Thoreau's journal, 1851

TO MAKE the most of homegrown vegetables, it helps to be a skilled cook. But to enjoy fruit fresh from the garden, you need only be an appreciative eater.

Sun-ripened strawberries and raspberries, plump figs, crisp apples, juicy kiwis and jewel-like blueberries are delectable for breakfast, snacks, salad and dessert. Simply pick, slice or dice, and pop into your mouth.

Forget orchards, trellising and fields. Plant producers are cleverly breeding fruit small enough to be grown in pots and urban gardens. A west- or south-facing wall is ideal for espaliering a fig tree, a raised bed offers adequate space for a columnar apple tree or two, and a pot can hold a dwarf raspberry bush that yields enough berries to top your granola.

Blueberries star on superfood lists because they're so rich in vitamins and antioxidants. There are evergreen hedging blueberries ('Sunshine Blue') and dwarfs to grow in pots and window boxes. With pretty white or pink flowers in spring and bright fall color, blueberries are as ornamental as they are delicious. Even leafless blueberry twigs are so pretty I use them for line and texture in flower arrangements all winter long.

Having limited garden space, I'm intrigued by the smallest-of-the small fruits new to the market. Last spring, Fall Creek Farm & Nursery in Lowell, Ore., introduced a trio of mini-fruits, including a dwarf, thornless raspberry shrub. "Raspberry Shortcake' doesn't need trellising, staking or cutting back. At 2 to 3 feet high, it can grow in a roomy container right outside your kitchen door.

'Peach Sorbet' blueberry is so named for its peach, pink, orange and emerald new growth in springtime. In winter, the foliage turns eggplant purple. It grows into a 2-foot-high mound and is promised to keep its leaves year-round. 'Jelly Bean' is the tiniest of them all, at around a foot high. Yet it produces full-sized, sweet blueberries in summer.

No matter how small the plant is, there's no point in growing fruit that doesn't ripen in our heat-challenged summers. To grow fruit successfully, you need sunshine (although blueberries can take some shade), good soil and regular watering. But most important is to choose varieties suited to our maritime climate.

So seek out fruit labeled "early ripening," and patronize regional specialty nurseries that cater to gardeners around here. Cloud Mountain Farm Center in Everson carries six kinds of fig trees that do fine in our climate, including one originating on Vashon Island.

Raintree Nursery in Morton offers three kinds of little columnar apple trees that grow surprisingly full-sized fruit. 'Scarlet Sentinel,' 'North Pole' and 'Golden Sentinel' are disease-resistant, have fragrant flowers in spring, are easy to slip into borders or large pots, and produce bountiful apples for eating, pies and applesauce.

From kiwi vines with leaves splashed in pink, green and cream ('Arctic Beauty') to 'Burmunk' grapes that are yellow, early ripening and winter hardy, the tempting fruits at Raintree turn your garden from just pretty to productive.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of "petal & twig." Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.

Forage for more

Fall Creek Farm & Nursery: 800-538-3001; www.fallcreeknursery.com

Cloud Mountain Farm Center: 360-966-5859; http://www.cloudmountainfarmcenter.org/

Raintree Nursery: 800-391-8892; www.raintreenursery.com

Local news partner - Plant Talk

Valerie Easton writes in her blog about gardens and the people who make them.


COURTESY OF FALL CREEK NURSERY
The plants are dwarf but the fruit is full-sized: What's not to like about a thorn-free raspberry and a blueberry named 'Jelly Bean,' seen here, bred for our climate by Oregon grower Fall Creek Nursery.




COURTESY OF FALL CREEK NURSERY
The plants are dwarf but the fruit is full-sized: What's not to like about a thorn-free raspberry, seen here, and a blueberry named 'Jelly Bean,' bred for our climate by Oregon grower Fall Creek Nursery.




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