These are all the plants I’ve given up on, for reasons of taste, productivity or invasiveness or simply because they haven’t coped with the Aberdeen climate. Some of them I haven’t grown myself but have observed in other gardens that they don’t produce food at this latitude. The list doesn’t include the many plants that I’ve failed to even get to germinate.

Main post: A History of Failure.

Actinidia chinensis – smooth kiwi
Didn’t fruit, even in an (unheated) greenhouse.

Actinidia kolomikta – Manchurian gooseberry
Didn’t fruit, even in an (unheated) greenhouse.

Agastache foeniculum – anise hyssop
A nice, minty taste, but not hardy in cold, wet winters (it does self seed, so it pops up randomly around the place every now and again).

Akebia quinata – chocolate vine
Fruit. Grows and flowers but does not fruit on a south-facing wall in Seaton Park, Aberdeen.

Angelica sylvestris – wild angelica, wood angelica
Wild angelica is an attractive native woodland plant, but in my opinion it isn’t productive enough for the forest garden. The leaves can be used sparingly as a herb but it takes up too much space to make this worth it. I have tried frying the young leaves as with its relatives sweet cicely and (native) hogweed, but found them too bitter.

Aquilegia vulgaris – columbine
Columbine grows well in the forest garden and if you find you like the taste then it would be well worth growing. Martin Crawford describes the young leaves as excellent and the flowers as great in salads. However all parts of columbine except the flowers are usually described as poisonous and the young leaves certainly taste that way to me. The flowers are okay but not enough of a crop to be worth bothering with.

Asarum canadense – snake root, wild ginger
This never thrived and died out from two separate introductions. It is used as a ginger substitute (not that it tastes much like ginger) but there have now been health concerns raised about it.

Asclepias incarnata – swamp milkweed
Herb per. Grew from seed 2013. Never flourished and then died.

Asclepias syriaca – common milkweed
Herb per. New from seed in 2013 and several times threeafter. Never flourished outside and eventually died.

Asclepias tuberosa – pleurisy root
Herb per. Tried from seeds several times. Never grew well outside. Dies over winter.

Atriplex canescens – grey sage brush
Shrub. Grew several plants from from seed 2011. Poor growth and poor overwintering outside. All eventually died.

Caltha palustris – marsh marigold
Herb per. Grows well in pond but poor taste and texture.

Campanula rapunculus – rampion
This is reported as having fleshy roots with a sweet taste reminiscent of chestnuts. I have only ever managed to get plants with very fine roots, which seems to be the general experience that other people who have actually grown it have had too.

Cochlearia officinalis – scurvy grass
Possibly the most revolting plant I have ever tasted. I would rather have scurvy. Update: I may have to eat (scurvy-grass-flavoured) humble pie on this one. Mark Williams of Galloway Wild Foods has this to say about scurvy grass. As is so often the case, it looks like it’s all in the preparation.

Crithmum maritimum – rock samphire
Herb per. Tried from several sources. Clings on but not entirely hardy here and eventually dies out.

Cynara cardunculus carduncuus – cardoon
Herb per. Flower heads fiddly, stems require annual growing. Globe artichoke (same species but selected for flower heads) is a much better bet.

Dioscorea batatas – Chinese yam
Not hardy outside. Grows well on a windowsill.

Eleagnus x ebbingei – elaeagnus
This is an excellent plant whose fruits I have enjoyed eating in a park in London. However in Aberdeen I have never seen it flower or fruit, despite its being widely used as a municipal shrub. The foliage tends to be damaged in harsh winters.

Gaultheria procumbens – wintergreen
Wintergreen has died out twice during cold winters. The berries have a very odd taste (like TCP, if anyone remembers that), so I’m not too sure why I grew it the second time anyway.

Geum urbanum – wood avens, herb bennet, cloveroot
A native wild plant whose root, dried and powdered, tastes like cloves. However, real cloves are so convenient that this really isn’t a priority for me. Wood avens is very invasive and takes up far too much space and work for what it gives.

Helianthus tuberosus – Jerusalem artichoke, sunchoke
JA grows like mad and produces buckets of edible roots. Unfortunately, along with most of the daisy family, the roots contain inulin, a sugar that the human gut can’t break down, leading to terrible flatulence. I love my forest garden plants, but this is taking things too far.

Lotus tetragobolonus – asparagus pea
Has a horribly stringy, scratchy texture, even when young – and the taste isn’t that good either.

Lycium barbarum – goji berry
Shrub. Planted 2010. Grows well but never fruits despite several pollinators nearby. Leaves not tasty.

Mespilus germanicus – medlar
Even in warmer parts of Britain, this fruit has to be bletted, or left on the tree until after the frosts, to make it soft enough to be palatable. Here, even this doesn’t do the trick. Fruits are produced, but they never get beyond being rock-solid and tasteless.

Plantago coronopus – buck’s horn plantain, misticanza
Doesn’t maintain itself in the garden, unlike some other plantains I could mention.

Prunus spinosa – blackthorn, sloe
Yield too low to be worth it; spreads by suckers so can be invasive. Better foraged.

Reichardia picroides – French scorzonera
I’ve tried this a few times from seed. It grows well but doesn’t successfully maintain itself by seeding – it’s not very productive either.

Rosa rugosa – ramanas rose
This is a useful shrub if you’re into rosehip teas, which I’m not. Even if you are, it’s so widely planted as a municipal shrub that it probably isn’t worth taking up space in your garden.

Rubus fruticosus agg – bramble, blackberry
Too spready for the forest garden, plus cultivated brambles never seem as nice as wild ones. Better foraged.

Rubus nepalensis – Nepalese raspberry
See ‘Four forest gardening myths’ for my general opinion on aggressive ‘ground cover’ plants like this.

Rubus parviflorus – thimbleberry
Grows and flowers well but no fruit. I only have one plant (genetically speaking), so perhaps it’s pining for a pollination partner? Update – this year (2013), after an unusually warm summer, I did get a little fruit from the thimbleberry. It was delicious but most flowers still failed to develop into fruits. (2014) Another warm summer and more fruit. I’ll be interested to see what happens in a cold summer – whether the plant just needed a long time to get established or whether it only fruits in warm summers here. (2017) No fruit since 2014.

Rubus spectabilis – salmonberry
I have never planted this, but have spent a lot of time cutting it down. Locally it is a very invasive plant which seems to particularly like taking over moist stream margins. The fruit is very popular with the birds which help to spread it around, but to my taste it is insipid. They are also smallish and not produced in great numbers compared to the very large size of the bush. It is often advertised in permaculture and unusual fruit catalogues but I would steer well clear.

Tilia platyphyllos – large-leaved lime
Leaves too hairy. I prefer small-leaved lime or some hybrid limes (which vary greatly in their hairiness).

Tropaeolum tuberosum – mashua
Mashua is an Andean tuber. It gave a poor yield and tasted horrible. It produced a few seeds but they weren’t viable. I wasn’t sad to see it go. Update: It seems that I am not the only one with this view of mashua, but William Whitson of Cultivariable reports that long, slow cooking can make mashua not just palatable but nice.

Ugni molinae – uñi, Chilean guava
Delicious fruit but won’t overwinter without protection.

Viola labradorica – alpine violet
Low perennial. Not as good as native variety.

42 thoughts on “Failures

  1. Rhizowen

    My mashua yielded 2 kilos of tubers from one plant this year. It’s productive, but tasty? Not in any way I’ve ever discovered. Ocas do well. I’m hoping we can breed some better varieties more suited to long day summers.

  2. Marlyn Turbitt

    I find I can grow watercress in one of my polytunnel beds without running water. It makes a good all year salad veg.
    I did get some fruit from my Lonicera this year, apparently you need two varieties for good pollination.
    Interesting to read of your other rejects.

  3. Alan Carter Post author

    Hi Marlyn
    Interesting to hear about your Lonicera. I have 2 plants, but they were from the same supplier and are possibly clones I suppose. Someone else on the allotments is planning to get one (They’ve been rebranded as ‘honeyberries’ apparently 🙂 ) so maybe I’ll start getting fruit once theirs flowers. One thing I’m definitely learning about the ‘rejects’ is never to give up completely on any of them; quite a number have come off the list over the years as I have learned something new about them or found a different variety.

    1. mortaltree

      Don’t any of your suppliers give cultivar names? If you just have two cultivars, they can pollinate. Some are earlier and some later though, so make sure they bloom at the same time so they actually pollinate each other. Here is a page that gives some cultivars and they’re blooming partners.
      I have ‘Berry Blue’ as a pollinator for five ‘Tundra,’ since one plant can pollinate eight others, or so I’m told. ‘Borealis’ is a good match for ‘Berry Blue’ also. These are Japanese cultivars, which I read bloom a bit later than the russian, keeping frosts from recking the flowers.

      1. Alan Carter Post author

        I got them back before edible honeysuckle had been reinvented as honeyberry and become widely available, so there were no cultivars available at the time. The question is whether that means they were all genetic individuals or whether they were just all the same clone! Nowadays most suppliers will have several different cultivars: I just ordered Balalaika and Blue Velvet from Martin Crawford at ART.

        1. mortaltree

          I have heard of Blue Velvet, but not Balalaika. I look forward to hearing how it performs!
          That’s tough not knowing if your plants are clones or not. It’s a wonderful thing to have so many plants we can pick from today, named, categorized, and tried. Thanks for adding your own experiences!

        2. jo cumming

          I’ve just eaten my first honeyberries from a bush planted last year. Only 2 this year but very tasty. I have 2 varieties bought from Scotplants direct at glenrothes as I understand this is needed to get fruit. we’re in the Highlands at 1000ft but last winter was not very cold for very long so I can’t say if they will survive a severe winter.

      2. MikeH

        Actually, Tundra and Borealis which are from the University of Saskatchewan are are Russian/Kuril Island hybrids. Dr. Bob Bors, who heads the USask breeding programme, indicates that he is now working with Japanese genetic material from Hokkaidō in Northern Japan and crossing it with Russian and Kuril germplasm.
        Honeyberry varieties such as Berry Blue, Blue, Belle, Cinderella, Svetlana, Polaris, etc. are all Russian varieties. Most were bred at the N.I. Vavilov Institute of Plant Industry in St. Petersburg but were renamed when they were introduced into the United States in the mid-90’s.
        Here’s a list of renamed Russian, Ukrainian and Czech cultivars –

        1. mortaltree

          I know the varieties I mentioned are later blooming, which is supposed to be a characteristic of the Japanese cultivars. Hybridization can make for some confusion though, so you are probable right that they have some Russian in them.

    2. Colin

      I have two varieties of Lonicera and, though the plants grow very well up here on the Black Isle, fruiting has been erratic, and ripeness very hard to judge – picked too early they taste like concentrated tonic water. Horrible.
      However, I shall persevere for two reasons. Firstly, the plants can reputedly survive -50 degrees, so if wd eved get a lkng cold winter again tgeh will be fine. Secondly, they flower very early and provide much needed early season feeding for emerging queen bumblebees.

  4. Jill

    I recommend giving the Chinese Artichokes another try. If you grow them in pots, and just dump the pots out, they are way easy to harvest. Harvested as soon as they’re ready, they don’t even need washing, just a brief rinse. And I do think they get the award for world’s cutest vegetable! And tasty — stir fried in butter, or simply thrown onto a salad.

      1. Maximilian Weigend

        I´ve started growing Helianthus tuberosus every year and me and the family love them, especially finely sliced or grated on winter lettuce (cichory or the like) with a sweetish dressing. Or do as the name suggests and treat them like artichokes – boil them (unpeeled!) until only just tender, then let cool of quickly. The skin is then easily removed and in chunks or slice dressed with garlic, white wine vinegar, salt and olive oil they make an excellent appetizer. Or roast them in the oven with a drizzlign of oil and salt. I leave them in the ground until I need them in winter and then dig them up and rinse them. Adds some nice variety in the cold season. There are fantastic varieties – including some dwarf ones that don´t fall over without cutting back.

    1. Alan Carter Post author

      They seem to affect different people in different ways, perhaps based on gut flora. I’m afraid I seem to be fairly susceptible to their effects: I tried them raw, boiled, baked, stir fried, deep fried – same effect every time 🙁

      1. ChrisToph Lane

        I read somewhere that inulin breaks down over time (The Art of Fermentation, Sandor Katz) .. so that if you cook it thoroughly, then leave it to sit it could be fine. Also, that when it’s roasted it breaks down into fructose. Dandelion and burdock roots are both high sources apparently, and i roast them to great effect. I haven’t tried roasting Artichokes though.

      2. Linda

        Yep, same with me. And afraid to say yacon has exactly the same effect. Even tried boiling down to a delicious syrup but same response from myself and 2 friends as well.

      3. Anna

        I tried them for the first time last year as fried slices with lemon juice. They were lovely with pasta and I had no gastric ill effects. Maybe the acid helps w/digestion of inulin? I planted them early this year based on that experience but before I learnt about their invasive reputation. Fortunately, I’m moving!

  5. Dave Howitt

    I assume the pear is being grown outside – here on Shetland I have two dwarf trees in my polytunnel that seem to be thriving well and have produced pears but they look a bit scabby though.

    1. Alan Carter Post author

      Yes, I meant outside. You can pretty much grow anything anywhere under cover and with heat if you put your mind to it. I got an email from someone about one in Kirriemuir succeeding against a south facing wall too. Congratulations on growing any sort of tree on Shetland!

  6. Mr. B

    Regarding the Actinidias, apparently this is a problem all of them share. A) They are dioceous, i.e. there are male and female plants which will only bear flowers of one gender. B) Most native pollinators don’t seem to like them too much, so the pollination has to be done by hand in order to get a good yield.
    I still don’t have much experience with them, but still want to try, because Kiwis are amongst my most favored fruits.
    Oh, and seeing that this is my first comment, thanks for your work here. Your blog is really interesting and I’m pretty sure I will find my way back here once or twice 😉

  7. Michael O.

    I find it odd that you’d have hardiness issues with Gaultheria procumbens, considering it grows wild pretty abundantly where I live in northern Ontario, Canada where the temperatures can reach -45°C! Might just be an issue with where you sourced the seeds, it occurs fairly far south in North America as well and seeds from a southern limit strain might not thrive in Scotland. Maybe look for Canadian seed, especially some from the maritime provinces where the climate is probably most similar to Scotland (though colder!). Other things I’d note would be that as a heath family plant it is a calcifuge that requires strongly acid soils. It’s not particularly fussy about moisture though, seems to be just as happy on upland sands as in the middle of a bog. Don’t give up on it though, it’s a wonderful herb and medicinal plant.

  8. Alan Carter Post author

    You may well be right about the provenance issues. Where possible I get Canadian seed for North American species (now more difficult since the demise of the excellent Gardens North), but if I remember right I got my Gaultheria procumbens as plants. Plants in the nursery trade in the UK tend to be selected for success in the south of England. Sometimes it is an issue of summer heat (or lack of!) rather than winter cold. A lot of plants that deal with very low winter temperatures in a continental climate fail here. Newfoundland plants would probably best here as even Nova Scotia was much hotter than Scotland in the summer on the occasions when I visited. The plants were grown in my heath bed so that shouldn’t have been the problem.
    I’m most intrigued by your description of G. procumbens as a wonderful herb. How do you use it (not including medical uses)?

  9. Davina Chu

    Wonderful website—thank you for a trove of information! I live in Northern California where thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) is native, and even where it’s adapted it is a very light bearer. Nice as an ornamental for shady spots though, and local lore has it that the large furry leaves can be used instead of toilet roll (haven’t tried it myself.)
    Wintergreen is something of an acquired taste. Here in the US it’s used to flavor candy, gum and rootbeer but I’ve heard from European friends who associate the taste exclusively with toothpaste and not something they’d want to eat.

  10. Davina

    Salmonberry (R. spectabilis) is also native where I live and I’d agree that, while fun to forage, the fruit is too bland to be grown just for that purpose. Nice flowers though.

  11. brummieliz

    I share your views on mashua – attractive looking plant and was very excited by the yield of tubers from just a couple of plants — but I still shudder now thinking about how vile they were. But I do like Jerusalem artichokes and after initial scepticism about chinese artichokes will also try and grow more this year. Great crunch and tasty too in a stir fry.

  12. Sib

    Hi! We grew Actinidia kolomikta in Stockholm against an east facing wall and it fruited very well. This makes me wonder: did you check you have both a male and female plant?

    1. Alan Post author

      Yes, I did. Stockholm has a more continental climate and hotter summers than Aberdeen, which might be the reason.

  13. riotflower

    Thank you for the detail you put in to all your plant lists and profiles!
    I also gave up on growing asparagus pea. I love the alienesque shape of the plant and the flowers are pretty, but I never managed to harvest when the pods were young enough.
    I was interested to read that the Gaultheria didn’t do well. I’ve been wondering about the plants available commercially here because ‘teaberry’ was a beloved trail snack (or ‘chew’ in the case of the leaves) during my childhood in Pennsylvania, USA. I had planned on introducing it in my future forest garden It grows wild in the mountains of Pennsylvania and survives very cold winters. Ah- and I see another comment about hardiness even further north. Do you think that it’s a poor strain in the UK or perhaps extended cold damp before/after the soil was frozen (as opposed to frozen soil for much of the winter in its native range)?

    1. Alan Post author

      Looking at the native range I suspect that plant provenance is at least part of the issue. Pennsylvania is much further south than Aberdeen and a much more continental climate, but the range extends to the northern maritime provinces of Canada, which is more similar. I would be more motivated to track down a suitable provenance if I liked it more (although I can see how it could be refreshing as a trail nibble)!

    2. John Hoggett

      I got quite good yields from the asparagys pea but they tasted of nothing to me ans were very fiddly to prep. Nice flowers though.

  14. John Hoggett

    medlars need to be picked when hard, bought inside and bletted in trays. Takes about a fortnight. I now have about 5lb ready to turn into fruit leather with some frozen redcurrents.

  15. Jodi

    I got a massive harvest of mashua from a couple of plants in Bucksburn area of Aberdeen. Have yet to taste them though, maybe pickling or fermenting might improve them?

    Haven’t reads all the comments so don’t know if mentioned already but fermenting j chokes takes away the flatulence problem as the bacteria consumes the inulin. Same with Yacons which I also grow.

  16. J Glass

    I got goji seeds about 6 years ago. Produced only five seedlings two in pots. I found they would flourish then suddenly look wilted then recover like normal. One in pot survived. It was the one planted two years later for lack of space behind a compost bin on a south facing fence with a draughty gap below. It is now huge eight feet all ways with berries each year that birds eat. I think it is the compost bin feeding and shading it. The bin looks like a dalek with a massive green hairdo in summer. I left the bush alone because of its touchy wilting trick but that stopped two years ago. Gojis are an aquired taste just saying. I am beside the Ythan River.

    1. Alan Post author

      That’s really interesting. I think you’re the first person I’ve ever heard of in the North East to get fruit on a goji berry. Do you think it’s worth it? Does an ‘acquired taste’ mean that it took a while to get to like them or does it mean that they are horrible?!


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