Sandy’s Garden ... Loganberry

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

Some years ago, we cruised more than once with an American cruise director by the name of Jamie Logan.

Not a lot of Scots cruise with Regent Seven Seas Cruises; and it was a particular pleasure to learn that Jamie Logan had not only heard of Jimmy Logan but was able to speak knowledgably about him. But the gentleman to whom I wish to introduce you, gentle reader, is neither Jamie Logan nor Jimmy Logan. He is James Harvey Logan, who was born in Rockville Indiana on December 8, 1841 … a few years before my time … was educated at Waveland Collegiate Institute in Waveland, Montgomery County, Indiana and went on to have a distinguished financial and legal career, serving as the President of the Bank of Santa Cruz County and the President of the Brookdale Land Co. before being appointed District Attorney of Santa Cruz County, a post he held before being promoted to the position of Superior Judge in the Superior Court of Santa Cruz County.

Yet he is better-known … outside the membership of the Historical Association of Santa Cruz at least … for a chance discovery he made while pursuing his recreational interest in horticulture. In 1882, James Harvey Logan inadvertently crossed a raspberry plant with a blackberry … that’s a bramble to us Scots … while pursuing a seemingly-compulsive urge to grow the largest blackberries (brambles) of all time, a self-imposed task which resulted in brambles which were 2½ inches long; and that’s a pretty large bramble!

But it is for his chance cross-fertilisation of the raspberry with the bramble … which resulted in a uniquely-stable new hybrid member of the Rubus family of plants … that we know at least a bit of James Harvey Logan’s name. For the hybrid he created was … and is … called the loganberry. Its creator never exploited Rubus loganobaccus for pecuniary gain: but this new fruit proved to be very productive and quickly became popular with commercial growers, who were particularly impressed by the fact that, before the days of refrigeration, the loganberry bushes produced fruit anything up to six weeks earlier than their parent plants, making them very welcome in the fruit market and on the shelves of the greengrocers. The first loganberry canes arrived in Europe in 1897 and the rest, as they say, is history.

The loganberry is a vigorous growing shrub which will attain a height of 3 metres … say, 10 feet in old money … in a single season. Unlike the bramble … a plant with lots of sharp thorns … the loganberry sports very fine soft spines like those which are found on raspberry canes but entirely lacks the thorns of the bramble. That’s one big plus point! The coarse, thick leaves are dark green; and the flowers are white. The plentiful berries are ready for picking when they become a deep purple colour; and when I write ‘the plentiful berries’ I am writing the literal truth for one bush … and a bush should have about 10 individual canes … will produce between 7 kg and 8 kg of fruit, and that’s between 15 and 17 pounds weight of fruit in the measures with which I was brought up. That’s another big plus point! Add the welcome facts that loganberry bushes are more frost and disease resistant than most soft fruits and will continue to produce berries for about 15 years and one can only wonder that they are not more widely grown than is actually the case.

The berries can be eaten fresh; they can be used in pies, in jams and in crumbles; they can be used to make loganberry syrup; they can be squeezed to provide a tasty juice; and they can be used to make wine. And yes, loganberries will thrive in central Scotland, with the one caveat that they don’t greatly enjoy being exposed to chill north-easterly winds.