Sunday, April 25, 2010

Little berried treasures

A recent trip to the South Island had many highlights, but one of the was an early Sunday morning stroll through the Christchurch Botanic Garden, looking and photographing the many horticultural treasures the garden contains. 
I spent some time conversing with another early morning riser in the Curator’s House vegetable patch.  He was, he delighted in telling me, a European, although he seemed to me to have a perfectly New Zealand accent.
His origin was a talking point as we discussed the flavour of the little New Zealand cranberries, Myrtus ugni, that were heavily in fruit.  He pinched a few of the bright red berries and chomped on them enthusiastically.  He said he was puzzled that I did not share his predilection for this Chilean native.
For those of you not familiar with this little shrub, it is a small growing evergreen shrub from South America, with small glossy dark green leaves that are spicy if crushed. In spring they bear small drooping white flowers which are followed by small pink to red fruit, which can be born from March to May.  They have a very peculiar fragrance and taste – something sweet surely, but underlain by a turpentine flavour. 
My fellow visitor insisted that I was displaying my British origins, and if I was European I would love the flavour, as the more sophisticated European palate prefers the slightly turpentine flavour of the berry.  I cannot say I was convinced, but being a basically affable sort of guy I agreed with him, and we happily went our separate ways.
The clever gardeners had used the cranberries as a hedge at the edge of the vegetable plot because it forms an easily trimmed barrier that can be kept relatively short, and will also not rob the garden of too much nutriment. This smart little plant will also look good as a part of a shrubbery, and I have even seen it used an espalier and as a subject for topiary.

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