6 April 2010
Three years after being planted in the garden two Californian gooseberries have established and are in flower. Both have intriguing, if not spectacular, hanging flowers and are protected by an array of particularly vicious spines so these don't get picked.
The fuschia-flowered gooseberry, Ribes speciosum, will eventually make a 6ft mound of arching stems covered with typical green currant leaves much improved for being shiny. Starting in February the length of each stem drips with glossy red flowers - if like a fuschia then they've been petal-plucked - and it will be in flower for two months. It is adapted to summer drought, flowering and growing in the cooler months. During very dry summer weather it will simply shed leaves to reduce its water demands. The first rains of autumn will soon encourage a flush of fresh green leaves - if not too exposed to the worst of the weather these will stay looking fresh throughout winter. It is normally recommended for sunny walls so as to ensure good flowering but seems happy and flowers reliably in dry shade under deciduous trees
The Sierra Gooseberry, Ribes roezlii, originates from moister places in the wild but this seems relative for it's garden use here, California being hotter and drier than we ever are. It is growing successfully here in thin soil that gets very dry in summer. It is deciduous but comes into leaf early and opens it's short season of flowers in March. The flowers are maroon and bright white, appearing singly or in pairs all along each branch - I think they look like dangling pulled teeth - and on sunny days the small points of white stand out from some distance. It is definitely not a front row shrub but is unusual and interesting.
The fruit of both are supposedly edible but none have appeared so far, bees visit the flowers of roezlii but I have seen none on speciosum. In the wild both are visited by hummingbirds, we don't see many of those round here, and I am not expecting heavy crops. Planning for pies, we have just planted two culinary varieties near the compost bins, which will no doubt please the blackbirds - but then I hear they are good in pies too.