Fragaria vesca, Alpine Strawberry
Illustration from Flora von Deutschland, Osterreich und Schweiz
by Dr Otto Thome, 1885
Despite their cool climate sounding name, Alpine or European wild strawberries are fairly easy to grow and in our mild climate it is possible to pick fruit from them for many months of the year. The problem is being able to pick enough of them to 'make a meal' as they are really the ultimate sweet garden snack food which you eat as you find them.
I grow a few varieties including a white fruited form called 'Pineapple Crush'; and one called 'Golden Alexandria' with lovely lime green foliage which makes it eye catching in a shady garden spot.
The tiny white flowers of Alpine strawberries are produced on long stems and stand proud of the foliage until the fruit forms and then they disappear amongst the foliage. They are clump forming plants and can be propagated by dividing a clump or growing them from seed. Seedlings often pop up in unexpected places and can be dug up and moved to more favourable sites. Germination of seed can be slow and if you end up with a mass of tiny plants crowded together in a seed tray they are fairly easy to separate and surprisingly hardy despite their delicate looking roots and tender appearance.
The only problem I have in growing them comes in the form of leaf spotting during the hottest months but diseased foliage can be cut off and if they are given some compost or fertilizer, after a haircut, they grow back in no time. These strawberries grow well in pots but are best in a semi shaded spot. Leaves wilt if the container dries out, but they are so forgiving they quickly revive when given a drink.
Flowers and fruit
It is interesting that the fruit can be eaten at any stage and remains sweet even when starting to go very soft or at the almost dried stage.
Wild strawberries have been popular for centuries and much folklore, literature and songs include a reference to them. The strawberry is depicted as a heart shaped symbol of love or unrequited love as in the rendition of the folk song I loved a lass sung by Andreas Scholl :
'The men in yon forest, they ask it of me
"How many wild strawberries grow in the salt sea?"
And I ask of them back with a tear in my eye
"How many ships sail in the forest?"