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Battle of the Goosegogs

Updated: Oct 12, 2020

I decided I have to start somewhere making sense of the garden near the house, but I don't want to upset the lovely man who cuts the lawn and hedges. I also want to give mum a reason to venture out into the garden.

My interest in gardening used to be purely food related. The least gardening involved in this the better.

I wander around looking at the plants which have survived dad's down sizing and the roses. There seems to be loads of rose bushes, all of which are massive with huge thorns and lots of dead wood. I need to work out how to manage them without injury or killing them. There are two massive pampas grasses and a fuchsia 4' high and about 8' across. I'm feeling somewhat overwhelmed.

Then I remember the gooseberry bushes living in a quiet corner. Mum's favourite activity with me as a child was hunting gooseberries to pinch everytime we came into the garden for any reason. A favourite treat when helping hang washing was a gooseberry snack on a warm day. There is nothing more decadent than eating gooseberries from the Bush when they are sun warmed and pink almost to the point of bursting. Gooseberries from supermarkets could never compete.

The bushes are a tangle of nettles and thorns with a grape vine growing through everything. The nettles are approximately 2' high already in mid spring. Spotting the empty branches of Gooseberry bushes is a challenge and tracing them to to see the shape of the plant or distinguishing separate plants is very difficult.

I've read that the treatment of gooseberry bushes is to prune them into an open bowl shape. This should allow air flow to prevent mildew and allow space for fruit to grow. These bushes are a waist high thicket of thorns. This does not relate in any way to the lovely picture on line of how to prune at gooseberry bush. There is not a nice straight middle branch with 4-5 growing from it. There are about 20 branches and side branches all criss crossing, and as there are about 5-6 bushes all so overgrown that they intertwine making pruning potentially painful.

In order to prune I first had to remove glass sheets placed there presumably from the derelict green house. After this the nettles needed cutting back to reduce stinging. After this only the bushes and vines were present

There used to be a path surrounding the bushes but now it's covered in grass, nettles and moss so seeing what starts and ends where is a bit like a good crystal maze puzzle.

I'll need to dig back the grass at some point and work out how to manage the nettles. I don't want to use weed killer because when we first started doing work on the garden we found 4 nests possibly wild bees but maybe wasps, I didn't check, however I've since not found any evidence of wasps so it's probably bees. If they are on the land, I don't want to kill them off with weedkiller.

When I looked up the guidance for pruning gooseberries the picture in no way matched what I saw. It's tempting to go for a coffee and conjugate for another year, but I need to start somewhere.

To start I just had to go for it. Pick a branch and take some of it back. Then do those around it, cutting back any overlapping bits so that I can see the basic structure of the plant. Then I did another section, about an eighth of the plant at a time and cutting back other plants over lapping. Every so often I stopped to look at the overall shape so far and then took out extra branches which were close to others.

The hardest thing is that I have to consider taking out what appears to be the leading branch which grows straight up. I'm fortunate that dad has done this mostly when most plants he planted were young, however there still appears to be a lot of upwards growing shoots which are not in the pictures I looked at in the articles online, so they are going. I'm a bit worried I'm going to just kill them altogether but we'll give them a go for a year and see what happens.

Cutting back caused a lot of arm and hand injury due to sharp gooseberry spines and abundant nettles. Note to self to buy gaiter gloves suitable for sharp spines.

I ended up with something similar to the pictures with the first 3 plants as my experiment. Now I have to do the next 3 next spring.

There has been a casualty though. The grape vine I had to hack right back to get to the gooseberries. I need to decide what to do with this?

I returned to the gooseberries in the summer, hoping that some fruit may have grown. Unfortunately the bushes had been cut back to approximately knee height, the nettles surrounding them were proliferating at waist height. On a good note the grape vine could still be seen.

Looks as though I'm going to be digging out nettles in autumn if we are to get any gooseberries.

I have been reading up on permaculture. I'm hoping to plant something to reduce the likelihood of nettles returning and to promote fruiting while reducing pests and mildew, a big ask

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