In Strawberries We Delight

Picking up strawberries in the garden on a warm day is a true sensual experience.

My eyes are attracted to the bright vermilion peeking not-so-shyly from under dark green leaves; my fingers reach eagerly yet carefully for the plump berries; I can feel the hot noon sun radiating on my back ; the whole garden is humming around me; the heady perfume of strawberry hangs heavily in the air, and finally … the taste of that warm ripe strawberry explodes in my mouth.

Yes indeed that dainty delicacy is full of pleasures. When picked ripe – at its peak.

One can't grow enough strawberries. From top left, scarlet Virginia strawberry, fragile Alpine strawberry, and water deprived (therefore small) garden strawberry 'Tristar'

The strawberry is a relatively new comer to our gardens – especially when compared to the apple or the quince. Probably not introduced in European gardens until the late Middle Ages, strawberry was thought as a delicacy from the fields and the woods. The garden strawberry as we know it today has a fascinating history. When the Europeans came to the Americas, they found strawberries – plenty of them but different species than the Alpine strawberry (Fragaria vesca) and the wood strawberry (F. moschata) they knew. On the North American Eastern Seabord, they found the Virginia strawberry (you guessed it… F. virginiana) which has a lovely clear red color, a firm texture, is very fragrant and very vigorous. On the West Coast and in South America, they found the Chilean strawberry (yep, that’s right… F.  chiloensis) remarkable mostly because of its very large fruit.  The two American strawberries met in a Dutch garden in the 18th century (that of George Clifford near Haarlem), and in a chance encounter the Fragaria ananassa, the ancestor of our garden strawberry was born. Ah… Les liaisons dangeureuses… the result? a fat juicy, vividly red and nicely perfumed berry on a vigorous plant combining the best of the North and South American strawberries.

In my garden, I grow Virginia Strawberry, Alpine Strawberry, and “Tristar” a day-neutral garden strawberry.  They each are appealing for different reasons.

The Alpine is incredibly fragrant but also incredibly fragile – so fragile that it melts when you wash it and does not keep very long (best to eat it straight from the garden); it produces throughout the summer – albeit not that much at any one time, does not run but clumps, and is also easy to propagate by seeds. And it’s not red throughout… look at the picture of the cut strawberries on a plate.

cut up strawberries
From top to bottom: 'Tristar' garden strawberry, Virginia strawberry and Alpine strawberry.

The Virginia strawberry is hardy and vigorous (yes, it does run – it seems to enjoy both marathon and sprinting – quite a feat). It produces one early abundant crop of delicious firm and small scarlet berries. One cultivar is still commercially cultivated, ‘Little Scarlet’ –  mostly for jam making.

Finally ‘Tristar’ produces a tasty crop throughout the entire growing season  from spring to frost, perfect for me who want a few quarts every weeks for many weeks – not two bushel over 4 weeks.

A ripe strawberry needs not much more than a willing eater. But if you have excess and need some ideas of things to with them, take a look at those other posts:

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