Gardening columnist Mandy Watson is a softie for soft fruit

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SOFT fruit’s expensive to buy – so why not try growing your own?

You don’t need to set aside a whole area of your garden and build a fruit cage to keep the pests out - most can happily blend in with the rest of your garden.

Rhubarb’s a doddle and the big leaves are decorative (although poisonous), providing a useful contrast to annuals.

Plant it in rich, moisture retentive soil and don’t pick stems for the first two years to let the crowns mature.

I have blackcurrants ripening in the front garden - they have a lovely perfume and being planted among herbaceous plants seems to throw blackbirds and pigeons off their scent.

Gooseberries are equally undemanding - but keep them netted as the blackbirds ate most of mine last year - and try to buy spineless varieties if you can.

They’re not the easiest things to pick if you don’t.

After experimenting with strawberries in beds last year, I came to the conclusion they’re best grown traditionally, in beds in full sun.

They too need rich soil and don’t forget to net against birds and keep developing fruit off the soil with straw or tiles in case they rot.

I have raspberry canes in the front garden and in large pots which both do well.

Finally, my favourites are the sunberries - a cross between a tayberry and a blackberry.

One rambles all over an old fence and they happily seed themselves around for free plants.

Like raspberries, they need picking on a daily basis when ripe otherwise the birds will nick them (if there’s purple poo, you know they’ve got there before you).

They make tremendous compotes and jams - especially with a cheeky slug of vodka when you serve it!

The prolonged wet weather has claimed its first victims – some of the overwintered calendula have developed grey mould.

They are susceptible to this, so just cut off the rotting flower heads and any grey/brown foliage to try and create better air circulation between plants.

And the wood pigeons are wreaking havoc, stripping the lollo rosso, lettuce and chard down to the leaf ribs.

I’ve had to net the lot now... maybe I should do it when I plant them next year.

It’s good to find a seed supplier that sells things out of the ordinary – and at a great price. This week I stumbled upon which stocks rare and unusual varieties - and most of the packets I bought were just 50p each!

I treated myself to Dianthus deltoides ‘Alba’; Digitalis (perennial and biennial mixed); Dipsacus sativus (common teasle); Achillea grandifolia (white yarrow); an unknown Angelica species (told you they were rare); Angelica sylvestris ex ‘Vicar’s Mead’; Anthriscus sylvestris (cow parsley); Geranium thunbergii (syn. wilfordii) and Verbena bonariensis.

Plant of the Week

Its appearance is fleeting but all the more lovely for it - these dwarf water iris in a really intense purple/blue. They only last a week or two but really sum up June for me.