We walked under the spruce trees, passed the twisted hawthorn and down the slope. The long grass brushed our knees, the mild damp autumn evening surrounded us and calmed our senses. The small river trickled over rocks, a soundtrack to soothe as we walked in to the lower part of the garden.
Here trees and shrubs grow in the grass, eventually we will have a woodland where ornamental species mingle with productive plants bearing fruit, berries and nuts. The weather has been so consistently wet I have not been able to cut the grass in this area of the garden since June. The area even flooded a few times when the stream over flowed, then that whole part of the garden looked like the river Shannon. As a consequence, the lower garden is a bit of a wilderness. Despite the wet conditions many of the trees species have grown well. Plants that grow here are tough. Birch trees are happy, willows are ecstatic. The alders, Alnus glutinosa, which we planted in the sucking, wet ground a few years ago have rocketed skyward, their branches provide shelter and their roots fix nitrogen to enrich the soil. Hazels are thriving where there is better drainage close to the stream and Parottis persica ‘Vanessa’ will soon turn gold and crimson with autumn tints.
We picked our way through the grass, plucked some leaves of sorrel to munch and taste their sour flavour. A bush with large clusters of shining black berries drew our attention, Aronia melaoncarpa. Here in our wilderness, it has grown and triumphed. 1.5 metres high, so far, it will in time grow higher. A close relative of the wider grown genus, Cotoneaster, Aronias have a similar display of small white flowers in May.
Now in Autumn it gives us its best, the green leaves start to turn a rich red before fading to orange and gold before they fall. Hanging from the stems are juicy black fruits, the size of grapes. It is a plant of beauty and strong constitution. No weeding has been done around it, no fertilizing, no pruning. In wet acid soil it has thrived, and it has been fruitful. It also is growing in shade for most of the day, not until late afternoon when the sun has moved past the tall spruce trees does the plant receive direct sun rays.
There are other species of Aronia and hybrids too. Aronia arbutifolia is a smaller leaved plants with small red edible fruits and fiery red autumn foliage. Aronia ‘Viking’ is vigorous with dark purple edible fruits and good autumn colour. We also have another plant of Aronia in our garden with dark fruits that are smaller that A. melanocarpa with a different taste, I think it is A. x prunifolia.
I was surprised by how well our plant of A. melanocarpa had grown, and by how beautiful it looked, my mind turned to jam. I mean, I thought about making jam! The berries make a lovely jam.
Beside our tunnel I have a number of plants of Aronia melanocarpa and A. ‘Viking” which I had propagated from cuttings. As soon as I give the long grass and rushes a strimming, I will definitely plant more Aronia bushes.
ARONIA JAM RECIPE
- 1Kg of ripe aronia berries (A. melaoncarpa or hybris, not A. arbutifolia).
- Juice of one lemon
- 350g sugar
- 2 large cooking apples.
- Put the aronia berries in a saucepan with a little water and juice of a lemon. Cook on a low heat, simmering until they are soft, this takes longer than blackcurrants or blackberries, 35 – 40 minutes.
- Chop up the apple into pieces, do not skin and cook in a separate saucepan with a little water until it reduces to a soft mushy pulp. Press the pulp through a sieve to remove the skin pieces and set a side.
- When the aronia berries have softened stir in the sugar a little at a time. Then add the apple pulp.
- Turn up the heat and boil the jam, it should be raging, a roiling boil which will splatter like mad, be careful, it is very hot.
- After about fifteen minutes then jam should be thickening and ready for potting.
Filling jars and Storing
- Transfer the jam into sterilized jars. I put washed and dried jars with lids removed into a cold oven and then turn the heat to 140 degrees Celcius. Leave them in the oven for 10 – 15 minutes. I put the lids in too.
- Fill the jars while jam is till hot, I use a jam funnel. Put lids on straight away and screw tight. This will cause a vacuum to develop as the jam cools, you will hear lids pop after a while. When the jam has cools, label with date and store jars in a cool, dark dry place. Well prepared jam can last for a year.