REVIEW: Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden
Beyond apples and blueberries
A growers guide to unusual fruit

Reviewed by Eileen Weinsteiger


Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden

Lee Reich, Timber Press, 2004 (rev. edn)
ISBN 088192623X; 292 pp; $24.95

January 27, 2005: Oh, how I wish that I had had access to this type of information 20 years ago! Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden is an excellent book with a wealth of information for any gardener wanting to grow new and exotic fruits.

Most of the species and variety selections are at once attractive and useful, fitting well into the scheme of 'edible landscaping.' Many also offer year-round interest: the juneberry (Amelanchier spp.), for example, brightens the early spring landscape with a cloud of white flowers, follows with sweet fruit in the summer and rounds out the year with striking autumn foliage. As you read about these 23 uncommon fruits, you are sure to be intrigued by at least one that you will want to grow.

The book gives the reader rich detailed facts, pen and ink drawings and in some chapters the author has interwoven ancient poetry to describe the fruit. These fruits are especially interesting to me because they are easy to grow, most are not prone to insect and disease problems and require a minimum amount of care. Due to the current state of the environment and human health it behooves us to learn how to grow our own food in a sustainable manner. Fruit trees and vines used in the landscape add diversity, beauty and attract wildlife.

Devoting a chapter to each fruit, Lee Reich describes in beautiful detail the plant's characteristics, cultivation and propagation methods, how to harvest and use the fruits, available cultivars and fascinating little-known facts. In the harvest and use section you will learn the specific time to harvest, tree or vine productivity and the best harvesting methods. Tips for using the fruit are also very interesting. Note, for instance, that Europeans used Cornel-berries (Cornus mas), a relative of our dogwood, as a substitute for olives. The berries were also used in folk medicine for various maladies. For the culinary artist the diversity of fruits mentioned in this book offers opportunities to create new taste sensations. And nutritionally, many of these fruits are a valuable source of vitamins C and A and numerous antioxidants that are disease-preventive.

Observe the color photographs and see the beauty of these specialty fruits and you will certainly be tempted to learn more about them. Did you know that our native pawpaw (Asimina triloba), with its unique and attractive foliage, is a relative of the tropical species cherimoya and soursop? I was especially interested to learn about the shipova (x Sorbopyrus auricularis). The name shipova justifies interest, as does the parentage--a cross between the European pear and Sorbus, the genus of the mountain ashes. This tree of European origin found its way to the United States from Yugoslavia in 1959. But it is the flavor and texture of the fruit that may persuade you grow this beauty. Reich describes it so artistically: “The buttery flesh, a bit more meaty than a pear, melts with each bite to fill the mouth with sweet and fragrant ambrosia.”

The passionflower of the north (Passiflora incarnata), commonly known as Maypop, is another intriguing plant. This herbaceous perennial vine is very cold tolerant and produces beautiful flowers with Biblical connotations. Although I have grown Maypop for ten years I have never succeeded getting mine to produce fruit. According to Reich, hand-pollination may be necessary to ensure good quality fruit. If you have a passion for butterflies, or wish to treat insomnia naturally, you will want to consider growing Maypop.

Although I am already growing seven of the fruits listed here, after reading Uncommon Fruits in full I am tempted also to try Che (Cudrania tricuspidata), also known as Chinese mulberry. Reich writes that it requires little pruning, tolerates poor soil and demands little water; but what intrigued me most is his description of its flavor.

I highly recommend this book for gardeners, botanists, plant enthusiasts and any one interested in growing and utilizing new fruit. This is a great reference book, with appendices devoted to nomenclature, pollination, siting and planning, pruning, propagation and mail-order sources for plants and seeds. Lee Reich gardens in New York, holds a Ph.D. and spends much of his time writing, lecturing and consulting. His other books include Uncommon Fruits Worthy of Attention, Growing Fruits in Your Backyard, The Pruning Book and Weedless Gardening.

Eileen Weinsteiger is garden manager at The Rodale Institute.