If you see someone with purple fingers and tongue in the next few weeks they may well have a mulberry tree.
This is the peak of mulberry season, more ripe fruit dangling from the branches every morning. Mulberries are fat, juicy and luscious- or they should be. And they stain. (There is a rumour that you can remove the stain with the juice of unripe mulberries. I have never been able to squeeze out enough juice to test this.)
If you love mulberries, feed and water your trees or move to an area with naturally fertile soil and reasonable rainfall. Otherwise your tree may grow well – mulberries are survivors – but not give you lots of fruit.
And sometimes they just don't fruit much, no matter how well they are treated. We had two supposedly identical mulberry trees. One is currently laden with fruit. The other grew well, gave possibly three mulberries a year, then karked it one wet year, though its sudden decease may have been a coincidence and nothing to do with the weather.
Out third mulberry was a white 'shahtoot' mulberry. It also grew well, but the fruit was sweet, stringy, and totally tasteless. Admittedly this one was rarely watered or fed, but plumper white mulberries I have eaten failed to taste of anything much either, certainly not enough to bother stripping the fruit from their tough centre stems, which is what you need to do if you want mulberry pies or crumble, and don't enjoy chewing or spitting out the stringy bits.
Probably the best mulberry for your garden is a dwarf black or English mulberry. They aren't very dwarf. Anyone who didn't read the label would regard the result as quite a decent-sized tree, about three metres tall and two to three metres wide, though they can kept smaller if pruned each year – or any year – or if grown in a pot. Warning: those grown in a pot must be fed well and regularly if they are to fruit and still may not do so. Mulberries can be stubborn.
Regular-sized mulberries can grow to twelve metres, i.e. enormous, with (eventually) giant branches that are excellent for climbing or lounging on. And when they fruit, it's lots. All mulberries fruit over weeks or even a couple of months, with red fruit fattening into ripe black ones overnight, unless they are white or red mulberries, in which case they will begin green and end up red or white.
If by any chance you want a collection of mulberries – for which you will need a large garden, as well as a gluttenous adoration of the fruit – you can try the American red mulberry (Morus rubra), which is extremely hardy in cold climates and red when ripe, though there is a black mulberry (Morus nigra) variety called "Hick's fancy" that has slightly red fruit, too.
White mulberry is Morus macroura, but like the others there are many named varieties. There are about sixteen mulberry species, possibly more, either cultivated or growing wild in the world, and include yellow and purple fruiting ones, though I haven't come across either.
But one dwarf black mulberry tree will give you a plenitude of fruit. And it is now time for me to grab a bowl and pick today's harvest.
This week I am:
- Eating mulberries, making mulberry cordial, mulberry pies;
- Not eating loquats – it doesn't take long to get sick of loquats, even if they are one of the earliest spring fruits, though they do make delicious jam, like the very best of plum but, even so, we've welcomed the influx of bower birds and flying foxes who have despatched the last of the loquats swiftly;
- Glad the wombats approve of the fresh grass that has grown with the rain;
- Trying to keep the swamp wallabies from pushing down the tree guards around the apricots – once a wallaby has succeeded once, it knows that success is possible again;
- Doing a 'dead pot plant' census, of all the ones that have been under the eaves where the rain can't water them, and where I haven't watered them either; and
- Glorying in other people's roses. Our shady valley gets about half of the rose crop of roses growing elsewhere so there are roses in town spilling over stone walls, brick walls, fences. And our roses are pretty glorious too just now – we may get only half the number of roses, but that just means I had to plant twice as many bushes, mostly ramblers that, well, ramble … and grow big.