My daughter’s favorite fruit is strawberry. I remember her as a toddler with a bright red smile and red fingers lining up the berries that had just come home with us from the market on the kitchen table. So it was about that time, 17 – 18 years ago, that I decided to grow strawberries. Our property has always had more than its share of full-sun areas, and our garden wasn’t as full then as it is now, so adequate room was available for a hand-full of plants. My favorite nursery suggested an everbearing variety ‘Quinault’ (Fragaria x ananassa) as a successful plant for the Pacific Northwest. In what I had intended as a fun teaching moment, my daughter helped me choose bare-root plants from a large container filled with sawdust that, apparently, she thought needed “fluffing” and tossing around the nursery until I was able to distract her. I learned; she had fun. But our plants made it home intact, and the afternoon was spent planting them in a circular bed surrounded by her pansies. As I knew the plants would not produce edible fruit in their first year, I made sure to have a small supply of berries available for snacks. Delayed gratification is not a developed toddler skill.
If you are familiar with Fragaria x ananassa, you will be aware that it is an aggressive grower when well-watered. And if you are a parent, you will remember the toddler age as years of interruptions, unfinished projects, and forgetfulness. For instance, the parent will decide to water a garden (with help from the toddler, of course) but no sooner is the hose placed and water turned on than the toddler takes off down the sidewalk to follow a group of 10 year-old boys shouting and yelling while skate-boarding down the street accompanied by a barking dog, and the toddler’s mom goes running after the child to stop her from tumbling down the front steps and the mom forgets about the water until later that afternoon by which time the plants are very well watered. And as this happened more than once that summer, the plants thrived. They thrived so successfully that by the end of the following summer they had completely surrounded a mature rhododendron that shared their bed, and had made attempts to jump the lawn. The plants succeeded in their great escape by year 3 when I found that a couple of little strawberry plants had indeed jumped the lawn and crept up on a large rosemary plant.
All that growth isn’t so bad if you really need ground covered, which I didn’t. The primary problem with such exuberant growth is that it discourages fruit production, or such was the case in our garden. In the plants 4th year, we harvested at most a grade-schoolers’-hand-full of berries. By the time my daughter entered 5th grade, the plants were producing nothing but leaves. So much for everbearing. But the ever-patient mom-of-a-grade-school kid will let the plants alone while she juggles class-room field trips, PTSA meetings, volunteering, birthday parties, music lessons, and naps (I remember those so fondly). And she will hope for the best.
The plants are still with us after all these years. Still growing, still covering ground, still jumping their borders, and still not producing fruit. Someday, I will remove them and try a different variety. In the meantime, however, I think I’ll take a nap.