Brian Minter: High antioxidant plants can thrive in our climate

As the interest in growing our own food keeps expanding we are, unfortunately, overlooking some of the healthiest and most beautiful fruits of all. We may have a few blueberry plants in our gardens, but their more powerful, high antioxidant cousins, are seldom planted.

The vaccinium family is, without a doubt, a leading health food series of plants. Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) are a prime example. In her book, The Beauty of Berries, author Lisa Petty, a renowned nutritionist, points out their amazing qualities in terms of health benefits. She also explains how they are helpful in preventing kidney stones, tooth decay and dental plaque and are also proving useful in the fight against cancer because they help impede the process that feeds cancer tumours.

Hardy to zone 4, cranberries are not necessarily bog plants but will thrive in good quality, well-draining soil. Growing about eight to 10 inches tall, cranberry plants spread out as thick mats, making them a great option for an evergreen ground cover. Their beautiful bronze winter foliage is particularly attractive.

Hundreds of very tiny flowers in spring turn into huge, deep red berries in fall. I know from personal experience that a few frosts will bump up their brix sugar measurement so they will taste far less tart when eaten. According to Petty, cranberries are one of the best whole foods and have a great fibre content.

Lingonberries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) are native plants growing in many parts of Canada and the U.S.  Extremely popular in Europe, many hybridized varieties are grown on a massive scale.  A high antioxidant berry, they are used in preserves, jams, jellies and sauces, and, like cranberries, lingonberries are used in the baking industry.  In Scandinavian countries and in Germany, they are grown both commercially and as a popular plant in home gardens.

Vaccinium ‘Koralle’ is a lingonberry that originated in Germany and grows about 15 inches tall and wide. It is one of the main cultivars in both old and newer plantings. It has a medium to large sized berry with a tart to sweet flavour.

Vaccinium ‘Red Pearl’, a lingonberry that grows a little larger (up to 18 inches tall and wide) has medium to large berries that have a sweet acidic flavour. On average, each mature plant will produce about one to one-and-a-half pounds of berries.

I think lingonberries are an important missing element in many gardens. They require excellent drainage to prevent root rot or phytophthora. To keep the soil open and porous, I always mix a fifty per cent ratio of fine fir or hemlock bark mulch into each planting hole. Lingonberries are evergreen, have a long blooming season and their red berries begin to form in mid to late summer, making them extremely colourful.

They have many of the same medicinal properties as their cranberry cousins, but because of the challenges of harvesting them on a larger scale, they are less well known. In the garden, however, they are a ‘must have’.

Vaccinium parvifolium is a deciduous, tall-growing variety of huckleberry found anywhere from the Sierra Nevada in California up to Alaska. It has showy, tasty red berries that are ideal for jellies and jams. It loves shade but unfortunately does not make a great garden specimen.

Known as the ‘evergreen huckleberry,’ Vaccinium ovatum, however, makes a wonderful garden plant. Native from Santa Barbara in California and up along the B.C. coast, it is a hardy zone 4 plant. When grown in a sunny location, it can measure three feet tall and wide, but in a natural shady spot, it will reach up to ten feet.  It has small, glossy foliage, and it too has white flowers in spring. It forms black berries in late summer that last, like lingonberries, well through the winter. Its berries are tart tasting, but, like cranberries, they will sweeten nicely with subsequent frosts. Looking fabulous all year round, it belongs in any area where azaleas and rhododendrons would flourish, and like its other vaccinium cousins, it needs very good drainage.

A huckleberry variety called ‘Thunderbird’ is the product of a former plant introduction program from the University of British Columbia. It has all the medicinal properties of cranberries and lingonberries, but it is seldom seen commercially, again because of the harvest challenges of small berries.

All of these vacciniums are excellent when used in containers — they are evergreen and attractive year-round.  They love the same acidic soils that have bark blended in the mix, and they need just a little slow-release fertilizer to keep them looking their best. I often plant them with winter-flowering heathers, not only for the added beauty, but because, when the heathers bloom in mid-spring, they attract pollinators that fertilize the vaccinium flowers. We can easily make our containers and gardens healthier and more attractive by planting those forgotten favourites, vacciniums.As the interest in growing our own food keeps expanding we are, unfortunately, overlooking some of the healthiest and most beautiful fruits of all. We may have a few blueberry plants in our gardens, but their more powerful, high antioxidant cousins, are seldom planted.

The vaccinium family is, without a doubt, a leading health food series of plants. Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) are a prime example. In her book, The Beauty of Berries, author Lisa Petty, a renowned nutritionist, points out their amazing qualities in terms of health benefits. She also explains how they are helpful in preventing kidney stones, tooth decay and dental plaque and are also proving useful in the fight against cancer because they help impede the process that feeds cancer tumours.

Hardy to zone 4, cranberries are not necessarily bog plants but will thrive in good quality, well-draining soil. Growing about eight to 10 inches tall, cranberry plants spread out as thick mats, making them a great option for an evergreen ground cover. Their beautiful bronze winter foliage is particularly attractive.

Hundreds of very tiny flowers in spring turn into huge, deep red berries in fall. I know from personal experience that a few frosts will bump up their brix sugar measurement so they will taste far less tart when eaten. According to Petty, cranberries are one of the best whole foods and have a great fibre content.

Lingonberries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) are native plants growing in many parts of Canada and the U.S.  Extremely popular in Europe, many hybridized varieties are grown on a massive scale.  A high antioxidant berry, they are used in preserves, jams, jellies and sauces, and, like cranberries, lingonberries are used in the baking industry.  In Scandinavian countries and in Germany, they are grown both commercially and as a popular plant in home gardens.

Vaccinium ‘Koralle’ is a lingonberry that originated in Germany and grows about 15 inches tall and wide. It is one of the main cultivars in both old and newer plantings. It has a medium to large sized berry with a tart to sweet flavour.

Vaccinium ‘Red Pearl’, a lingonberry that grows a little larger (up to 18 inches tall and wide) has medium to large berries that have a sweet acidic flavour. On average, each mature plant will produce about one to one-and-a-half pounds of berries.

I think lingonberries are an important missing element in many gardens. They require excellent drainage to prevent root rot or phytophthora. To keep the soil open and porous, I always mix a fifty per cent ratio of fine fir or hemlock bark mulch into each planting hole. Lingonberries are evergreen, have a long blooming season and their red berries begin to form in mid to late summer, making them extremely colourful.

They have many of the same medicinal properties as their cranberry cousins, but because of the challenges of harvesting them on a larger scale, they are less well known. In the garden, however, they are a ‘must have’.

Vaccinium parvifolium is a deciduous, tall-growing variety of huckleberry found anywhere from the Sierra Nevada in California up to Alaska. It has showy, tasty red berries that are ideal for jellies and jams. It loves shade but unfortunately does not make a great garden specimen.

Known as the ‘evergreen huckleberry,’ Vaccinium ovatum, however, makes a wonderful garden plant. Native from Santa Barbara in California and up along the B.C. coast, it is a hardy zone 4 plant. When grown in a sunny location, it can measure three feet tall and wide, but in a natural shady spot, it will reach up to ten feet.  It has small, glossy foliage, and it too has white flowers in spring. It forms black berries in late summer that last, like lingonberries, well through the winter. Its berries are tart tasting, but, like cranberries, they will sweeten nicely with subsequent frosts. Looking fabulous all year round, it belongs in any area where azaleas and rhododendrons would flourish, and like its other vaccinium cousins, it needs very good drainage.

A huckleberry variety called ‘Thunderbird’ is the product of a former plant introduction program from the University of British Columbia. It has all the medicinal properties of cranberries and lingonberries, but it is seldom seen commercially, again because of the harvest challenges of small berries.

All of these vacciniums are excellent when used in containers — they are evergreen and attractive year-round.  They love the same acidic soils that have bark blended in the mix, and they need just a little slow-release fertilizer to keep them looking their best. I often plant them with winter-flowering heathers, not only for the added beauty, but because, when the heathers bloom in mid-spring, they attract pollinators that fertilize the vaccinium flowers. We can easily make our containers and gardens healthier and more attractive by planting those forgotten favourites, vacciniums.

The vaccinium family is, without a doubt, a leading health food series of plants.

As the interest in growing our own food keeps expanding we are, unfortunately, overlooking some of the healthiest and most beautiful fruits of all. We may have a few blueberry plants in our gardens, but their more powerful, high antioxidant cousins, are seldom planted.

The vaccinium family is, without a doubt, a leading health food series of plants. Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) are a prime example. In her book, The Beauty of Berries, author Lisa Petty, a renowned nutritionist, points out their amazing qualities in terms of health benefits. She also explains how they are helpful in preventing kidney stones, tooth decay and dental plaque and are also proving useful in the fight against cancer because they help impede the process that feeds cancer tumours.

Hardy to zone 4, cranberries are not necessarily bog plants but will thrive in good quality, well-draining soil. Growing about eight to 10 inches tall, cranberry plants spread out as thick mats, making them a great option for an evergreen ground cover. Their beautiful bronze winter foliage is particularly attractive.

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Hundreds of very tiny flowers in spring turn into huge, deep red berries in fall. I know from personal experience that a few frosts will bump up their brix sugar measurement so they will taste far less tart when eaten. According to Petty, cranberries are one of the best whole foods and have a great fibre content.

Bold, burgundy toned cranberries are a happy sight in the late fall garden, and can be picked for Thanksgiving dinner!
Bold, burgundy toned cranberries are a happy sight in the late fall garden, and can be picked for Thanksgiving dinner! Photo by Minter Country Garden /PNG

Lingonberries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) are native plants growing in many parts of Canada and the U.S.  Extremely popular in Europe, many hybridized varieties are grown on a massive scale.  A high antioxidant berry, they are used in preserves, jams, jellies and sauces, and, like cranberries, lingonberries are used in the baking industry.  In Scandinavian countries and in Germany, they are grown both commercially and as a popular plant in home gardens.

Vaccinium ‘Koralle’ is a lingonberry that originated in Germany and grows about 15 inches tall and wide. It is one of the main cultivars in both old and newer plantings. It has a medium to large sized berry with a tart to sweet flavour.

Vaccinium ‘Red Pearl’, a lingonberry that grows a little larger (up to 18 inches tall and wide) has medium to large berries that have a sweet acidic flavour. On average, each mature plant will produce about one to one-and-a-half pounds of berries.

I think lingonberries are an important missing element in many gardens. They require excellent drainage to prevent root rot or phytophthora. To keep the soil open and porous, I always mix a fifty per cent ratio of fine fir or hemlock bark mulch into each planting hole. Lingonberries are evergreen, have a long blooming season and their red berries begin to form in mid to late summer, making them extremely colourful.

Story continues below

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They have many of the same medicinal properties as their cranberry cousins, but because of the challenges of harvesting them on a larger scale, they are less well known. In the garden, however, they are a ‘must have’.

Vaccinium parvifolium is a deciduous, tall-growing variety of huckleberry found anywhere from the Sierra Nevada in California up to Alaska. It has showy, tasty red berries that are ideal for jellies and jams. It loves shade but unfortunately does not make a great garden specimen.

Dramatically dark huckleberries are sweet and delicious.
Dramatically dark huckleberries are sweet and delicious. Photo by Minter Country Garden /PNG

Known as the ‘evergreen huckleberry,’ Vaccinium ovatum, however, makes a wonderful garden plant. Native from Santa Barbara in California and up along the B.C. coast, it is a hardy zone 4 plant. When grown in a sunny location, it can measure three feet tall and wide, but in a natural shady spot, it will reach up to ten feet.  It has small, glossy foliage, and it too has white flowers in spring. It forms black berries in late summer that last, like lingonberries, well through the winter. Its berries are tart tasting, but, like cranberries, they will sweeten nicely with subsequent frosts. Looking fabulous all year round, it belongs in any area where azaleas and rhododendrons would flourish, and like its other vaccinium cousins, it needs very good drainage.

A huckleberry variety called ‘Thunderbird’ is the product of a former plant introduction program from the University of British Columbia. It has all the medicinal properties of cranberries and lingonberries, but it is seldom seen commercially, again because of the harvest challenges of small berries.

All of these vacciniums are excellent when used in containers — they are evergreen and attractive year-round.  They love the same acidic soils that have bark blended in the mix, and they need just a little slow-release fertilizer to keep them looking their best. I often plant them with winter-flowering heathers, not only for the added beauty, but because, when the heathers bloom in mid-spring, they attract pollinators that fertilize the vaccinium flowers. We can easily make our containers and gardens healthier and more attractive by planting those forgotten favourites, vacciniums.

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