Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Gooseberry tales by Sue Irving

“This experiment will fail.” My husband John was adamant that it was more sensible to grow winter-hardy traditional English gooseberries rather than Cape gooseberries in our climate.

However, I am not a fan of thorns and prefer fruit that I can pop in my mouth straight away without cooking and sweetening it first. Cape gooseberries are often air-freighted and expensive, so growing our own made a lot of sense. The marble-sized smooth orange berries in their papery calyxes are also really pretty. So what was there not to like?

Whilst John also cares about saving money and the environment, he could not care less about looks. He considered scratches and slaving away over a hot stove a reasonable price to pay for homemade gooseberry jam. In the end we had to agree to disagree.  John planted a gooseberry bush; I bought Cape gooseberry seeds.

It looked as if John was right at first. His bush grew, whereas my seeds didn’t seem to germinate.  I later discovered that I had pulled out seedlings by mistake because I was confusing them with weeds! However, one specimen survived my first blundering attempts at lending creation a helping hand.

Over time I learned that Cape gooseberries can be easily propagated from cuttings, thrive in our unheated conservatory and are best kept in pots.  Many people seem to struggle to keep Cape gooseberry plants alive over winter, and one friend brings her plant to our house for a winter vacation.  I am now considered an expert in Cape gooseberries, as one of my plants has provided berries all year around for the past two years, even in the depth of winter. According to gardening books, it should only produce berries in autumn, but I am not complaining!

John’s gooseberry bush is also thriving. He was able to harvest a bumper crop of 2 kilograms last year after several years of picking only a berry or two at harvest time. A shelf full of gooseberry jam has sweetened his long wait for next summer’s harvest.

You may be wondering what our gooseberry “competition” has to do with writing. Here are some of the lessons I have learned:

1) Find your passion and you are more likely to succeed. Learn to trust your own vision rather than being swayed by other people’s opinions.

2) Don’t be afraid to experiment. A form of writing that others consider exotic and alien (Haiku anyone?) may really blossom in your hands with sufficient patience and practice.

3) Wait for the right season. Some pieces of writing will ripen more slowly than others. You can’t force the harvest.

4) It’s not a competition.  Rather than asking yourself whether your writing is better or worse than someone else’s, ask yourself whether it reflects who you are and want to be.


About the author:
Sue Irving is the co-ordinator for the Creative Communicators in Petersfield. She has co-written a book with John about their experiences when climbing Kilimanjaro. Gardening is not the only area where John and Sue take very different approaches!  How to conquer a mountain: Kilimanjaro lessons is available as a paperback and an e-book on Amazon, with all proceeds going to charity.  



  1. Thanks, Sue, this is really helpful - especially number 1. I can get so bombarded by other people's views of what / how I should write that I get confused and lose sight of what I really want to do. I'm going to hold onto my vision...

  2. Really encouraging piece - thanks :)

  3. I love this really fascinating and inspirational

  4. What a great piece! Very encouraging...thank you :)

  5. What a great piece! Very encouraging...thank you :)

  6. Agree with the others - fab analogy. Especially the time a creative venture can take to flourish. And about the competition aspect - you both can enjoy the fruits of your labours!