What could be better than stepping out into your own berry walk garden and harvesting homegrown blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and a big bushel of mint. Then bringing it all into the house to create a gorgeous mint and every berry salad to be served with fresh whipped cream for your friends and family. Not much if you ask me!
I recently teamed up with Mary Jane from Home For the Harvest to create a stunning berry walk garden in an under-used space in her gorgeous heritage home garden.
What is a berry walk and why is it different than a basic berry patch? A berry walk garden is a destination, a place you want to go and explore. A place to peak under branches and lift leaves to discover the bounty of the season.
A berry walk garden is also an incredibly effective use of space. It mimics the efficiency of a traditional row crop system but adds a creative spin by layering mixed berry crops with herbs, flowers and foliage plants. The result looks more like an ornamental garden than grandma’s raspberry patch.
It has the ability to become the feature of your backyard. With the production of delicious, mouthwatering fruit, beautiful blooms and colours that change with the seasons, it’s easy to see why a bountiful berry walk garden can add more to your yard or homestead than just delicious fruit.
So are you ready to create your own berry walk garden?
In this article, you will learn to design, shop for, install and maintain your own berry walk garden.
So, let’s get started because we have a ton of material to cover today!
Whether you are a greenhorn gardener or a seasoned vet, there are some important factors to consider before you get started designing your berry garden, such as species selection, growing zone and site conditions.
The key to species selection is making sure to ask yourself, what berries do you and your family like to eat?
Strawberries are always a big hit and they are easy to grow. Blueberries can be challenging to grow, but once you crack the code they are totally worth it! Some people dislike currants but we grow Clove Currant(latin: ribes odoratum) which is just sensational to eat fresh and it makes the most amazing jam.
I grow all of the berries mentioned above at The Hip Homestead, but they typically found in Northern climates. I would love to grow tropical fruits, but I know they won’t thrive in my climatic growing zone.
So, what is your growing zone and climate? This may seem like a simple question for experienced growers, but many new gardeners are unsure of their growing zone. And while we would love to trust our nurseries, many of them sell plants that just won’t make it through a really hot summer or freezing winter. That’s why it is so important to understand your growing zone. For more on growing zone see this great article by Mary Jane over at Home for the Harvest.
Where you locate your berry walk garden will determine the species you will be growing. While strawberries and blueberries like full sun, they also need regular water to produce well. Currants can thrive in semi-shade and goji berry produces well in hot dry conditions. Always make a note of your site’s light, soil and water conditions before you get to designing.
Remember, the key to any garden’s success is:
Always put the Right Plant in the Right Place.
Ok, so now you know your growing zone, your location and site conditions and you’ve polled the family on their favourite berries, it’s time to get designing.
Measure your area
Measure your area to determine length and width, be sure to include your access paths, existing trees/ shrubs and anything else that is going to stay in the garden, transfer your measurements to graph paper.
For easy math use a 1:1 ratio, so 1 square on the graph paper is equal to 1 foot in my garden.
Using graph paper sketch out your existing structure and any trees or shrubs that are going to stay in the area.
Account for access paths
To create your berry walk you will need a path or walkway. The walkway will allow you to harvest your berries from all sides. The path will also allow light and air to circulate ensuring even ripening and reducing the chance for disease. Draw in your walkways at 2-3’ wide to allow ample room for the berry plants to fill in.
Customize your bed width
When drawing your beds I like to use a “double reach” measurement. I am 5’3” and my arms are only 26 inches long so I won’t build a bed wider than 4’ to ensure that I can reach the berries from both sides without stepping in the bed. If you are taller than me, feel free to make your beds wider, but remember to maintain ease of harvesting and minimal foot traffic on the soil. If you are building your bed against a wall or fence, try for a single reach bed of 1-3’ wide.
Plant selection Part 1: Foundation plants
Ok, so your garden is all sketched out, now it’s time to draw in your foundation plants.
I prefer to sketch in my foundation plants at the size they will be when they are fully mature. Drawing your plants in at mature size helps ensure you won’t be overcrowding your garden, which could lead to a garden renovation in 3-5 years, right about the time your berries will be at peak production. Not ideal 🙁
Some great options for foundation berry plants include goji berry, mulberry, elderberry, and saskatoon, all of which are hardy in northern climates.
If your garden space is smaller or in an urban area, chose smaller foundation plants such as blueberry, currants, raspberry or blackberry.
Plant selection Part 2: Secondary plants
When choosing your secondary berry species think about the shape and architecture of your foundation species.
An elderberry is tall and wide at the top but, narrow at the bottom, much like an umbrella shape. So there is plenty of room to fill in underneath of a tree like that. Currents, honey-berry and gooseberry would do well under the canopy of the elder. You could even layer strawberry under the currents to really optimize the space.
Plant selection Part 3: Companion plants
When selecting your companion plants think about the service you want them to provide. Plan in plants for pollination, edible plants and plants to help beautify your berry garden.
Companions for Pollination
Many berries are insect pollinated so include species that attract pollinators to your garden. A few easy to source beneficial companions that the pollinators love include, alliums/chives, catmint, violet, and lupin.
Culinary herbs make companions for berries. Herbs like thyme, lemon balm, chive and even garden sage can grow happily amongst berry bushes. Combining herbs with your berries is a great way to have your berry walk garden serve a dual purpose as both a berry and an herb garden.
Companions for Beauty
While I think all plants are beautiful, there are some that put on a better show than others. It’s nice to include a few companions that help pull the whole design together. I like to select foliage plants for this job, foliage plants that look great all year, not just when they’re blooming. A few of my favourite foliage plants include hosta, sedums, ornamental grasses and of course heuchera.
Ok, so before designing your berry walk garden think about: what berries you like to eat, your growing zone and your site conditions.
Sketch out your site and remember to include accurate measurements, include paths for access and design custom beds for easy harvesting.
When selecting plants, start with your foundation plants first, add in secondary species that compliment the architecture of the garden, then add companion plants for pollination, edibility, and beauty.
How to shop for berries
When shopping for berry plants of any kind, take the time upfront to choose healthy looking plants. Check for disease or stress in the plant’s leaves and test the soil in the pot for compaction or exposed roots.
If the plant looks good the next thing to check for is hardiness and plant size, this will help ensure that this is the right species for you.
Ensure the plants are hardy
Double check that the hardiness zone is compatible with your local area. I admit it, I’m a gardener who likes to take risks and test what I can and cannot grow, but I am willing to risk losing the small investment of one or two plants, but I would never plant out an entire garden of plants that might not survive. So, again check your growing zone.
Double check their final size
While you can prune things to fit your area, the key to a low maintenance berry walk garden is to choose plants that won’t crowd each other out, while ensuring that your garden looks full and beautiful. Double check the final size of the plant to make sure it is the right fit for your garden.
Confirm their water & sun needs
Also, check the tag for your plant’s water and sun requirements. and keep in mind that while many plant tags advise full sun, many plants can not handle baking hot sun. So, if you live in a hot dry climate like I do, consider planting your plants in semi-shade or an area that receives shelter from hot afternoon sun.
A really good berry grower will take the time to help you further understand the product you are buying by including information like flavour, ripening time and pollination requirements. If the tag doesn’t include this information, ask your nursery staff.
Once you have bought your plants, be sure to keep them well watered until they are ready to go in the ground.
When purchasing nursery stock always chose the plants that look healthiest, that are hardy for your zone, that will fit your garden when they are fully grown and that match your site’s light and water conditions.
And now the moment we have all been waiting for, planting your berry walk garden!
- A copy of your garden design
- Measuring tape
- Plants of your choosing
- Peat based soil mix
- Compost (homemade or composted steer manure)
- Shovel & Rake
- Watering can or hose
How to plant your berry walk garden
Start by clearing the area, if necessary, your berry walk needs good quality soil, no weeds or debris.
Lay out your plants, as per your design, being sure to measure your plant spacing from the center of the plant. Although this is often the most time-consuming part of the project, it’s worth it to take the time now.
Because this is a berry walk, be sure to account for access. Can you easily access the berries for harvesting? Rearrange your plants if necessary.
Assess the final site overall again, considering the final plant size.
When planting, dig each hole one at a time 2x the width and depth of the pot.
Add 1 pot or shovel scoop of each of new soil mix and compost. Thoroughly mix old and new soil together before adding your plant
Take your plant out of pot by flipping it upside-down and hitting the bottom of the pot. Once the plant is dislodged, loosen root ball gently to open the roots.
Remember, a root ball planted in the shape of the pot will stay in the shape of the pot, the plant will never send out new roots and grow healthy.
Place the plant in the hole ensuring the plant is level with the soil, a shrub that is planted too deep will struggle to grow.
Fill in the soil around the plant and press firmly to set roots and eliminate air space in the planting hole.
Water really well! Your berry bush will need a good watering after planting to help it establish small feeder roots.
Move along digging and planting one by one. I like to plant my foundation species or bigger plants first and work down in size, but there’s no wrong answer here.
Once all of your plants have been planted, mulch your berry garden with 3-5 inches of organic mulch. I like to use fine wood mulch, but some gardeners like leaf mulch, compost or even straw. My goal is to keep a consistent look to my property, but the choice is yours!
Before you plant, gather all your materials together. Layout your garden and really assess your design. Ensure room for harvesting, access and mature plant size.
Water deeply three times weekly for the first 3 months or in very dry, hot weather, then slowly cut back to watering once a week. Water more often in dry areas.
Use smart watering techniques: Water early or late at night, use mulch, water deeply, use drip lines if possible, use rainwater if possible.
And always take the time to test the soil moisture with your finger first, overwatering can cause the plant’s roots to rot, so try to find a happy medium.
Berries are pretty hardy and don’t often need regular fertilizer, simply add a scoop of compost around the base of the plant each spring and fall. When adding compost, take care not to smothering the plant, evenly sprinkle the compost around the base and try not to pile it in a clump at the trunk of the plant.
Every spring after all risk of frost has passed, check your plants for broken or dead branches, prune them off with sharp, sterile pruners. Feel free to prune for shape at this time, maintaining a pleasing overall structure and ensuring to clean your pruners between cuts.
Many berries like strawberry and raspberry will continue to produce for weeks if you harvest daily. So, be sure to get out and harvest your berries. If I have more berries than I can eat in a day or two, I freeze them for later in the year when I use them to sweeten smoothies or add them to my cereal in the mornings.
Ok, so let’s recap!
- Design your berry walk as per your sun and soil conditions, finished plant growing size, what your family likes to eat and for beauty, of course.
- Shop for plants that look healthy, will grow well on your site and taste great.
- Layout your berry walk garden before beginning to plant to ensure proper spacing, easy access for harvesting and to ensure that it looks great.
- Maintain your berry walk garden by watering regularly, feed with organic compost spring and fall and harvest regularly for higher yields.
I hope this article was helpful to you. If you want to learn more about gardening I have more articles here.
Feel free to reach out to me, I’m a real person and I’d love to hear from you. Contact me here by commenting below, find me on Facebook or stay up way past your bedtime by checking out my Pinterest page, where I have tons of great resources from around the web!
Ok, that’s it!
Thanks for hanging out, chat soon.