The Saskatoon Serviceberry; The Easy Eco Shrub

In the mid-Autumn a few years back I was sitting on my back stairs and decided my back garden needed something. My small, inner-city, late 19th Century garden needed a boost, some life other than English Ivy and Lilly of the Valley. I know very little about plants and have mistakenly caused the pre-mature decline of all indoor plants I have owned (probably over-watered). I needed a hearty, idiot-proof plant that could survive the winters of the 'Rust Belt.' As a helpless 'Petrol-Head,' I went to the only place that made sense to me, a place that sells automotive supplies, tools and a garden centre. I've always seen plant life behind a rod-iron cage on the opposite end from the automotive centre so I thought I would, like Charlton Heston in The Planet of the Apes, venture in to the forbidden zone. Armed with neither a clue or botanical knowledge, I combed the soon to be closed for winter, sparce oasis at Barton and Kenilworth. Blimey, $30 for some bush I have never heard of and at this time of year, I could not imagine it lasting the winter. I thought that I may wait until the spring...but then probably more expensive...keep looking. There before me was a less than visually appealing specimen but it was only TEN DOLLARS; a 'Sawbuck!' This poor looking thing could have been a mate of Charlie Brown's Christmas Tree; crooked, anemic and alone, unloved, unwanted and probably doomed for the bin.

Crouching down, I diverted my eyes from the then reduced price tag to read the description of the sad creature; "Saskatoon Seviceberry," 'hearty and grows well in rough climates.' Well, I needed something that could withstand my 'brown-thumb,' so I picked-up the little pauper and proceeded to the cash-out.

I knew where I needed to plant it so when I got home, I grabbed my spade, dug the hole and planted the little derelict bush. I added much water, as I was told this is what is done when planting a shrub or tree or bush. An experienced pseudo-gardner told me that it would never live planting it in October...for $10, I would take the chance. 

The little Serviceberry lasted the winter and by mid-spring it had actually grown. Sreviceberry? I did not see any berries. Next year it had grown another couple berries though. It did not concern me too much but it did live and was growing quite well so all was good. The following spring this little plant was now about 6 feet tall and had graced itself in little white flowers. The flowers looked nice but soon all fell off and blew away. Interesting and a little while later, little green berries formed from where the flowers had bloomed...could this be a Saskatoon to the internet...'By Jove,' they were Seviceberries, soon to be red and even edible.

For the past two Junes (also known in the States as a June Berry) this bush has been the buffet for Robins and Cedar Waxwings. This year, the sad little bush has grown to about 20 feet high with a bumper crop of berries that could feed more birds in the neighbourhood than that exist. The berries are about the size and shape of a blueberry or cranberry and are, apparently, fantastic for pies and jams. With this in mind I studied more about this burly, tree-like bush; They are native to North America but more appreciated and adored in Scandinavia. It is said that the most intelligent people had driven Saabs, so maybe they know something about these Serviceberries that North Americans dismiss or ignore. They come in both tree and bush form and have many species native to different parts of North America...hence; June Berry, Serviceberry and Saskatoon Berry.

I do suggest that if planting a Serviceberry, plant it away from the driveway far enough as the Robins and Waxwings are grateful for bush's berries, they are less hospitable to the cars shine and paint work. Nevertheless I have big and ripe berries, more than enough for myself and the birds. Thus, off to the Internet for jam recipes...that seems too easy. It is easy and Seviceberries make a fabulous jam! I picked 4 cups at a time, washed the berries and I simply put them in a pot on the stove, turned on the fire and mashed them with a ladle. Once the juice started to emerge, I added about 3 cups of sugar, shredded lemon peel, half the juice of a lemon and a splash of water. Once that mixed, I used the hand blender on low to smooth the jam. I boiled the 1/2 pint mason jars (purchased at Canadian Tire of course) to sterilize, then wiped the jars, added the hot Serviceberry Jam...boiled the filled jars for another 10 minutes and I was done. The next morning, Serviceberry Jam on the toast was delicious and a perfect mate to the morning coffee and paper. Must also try with a scone and tea...good afternoon break!

The whole process took less than an hour from picking to jarring. Native North American's had long enjoyed these healthy, high in anti-oxidant berries. These waxy, green leafed and dark-red berried trees and bushes are a favourite with naturalists, Robins, Waxwings and Scandinavians. But has now, have become a favourite with this North American, no matter how sore that female Robin had looked perched on the telephone line as I picked from my own Serviceberry bush. I reminded her that there was plenty for all of us.




1 Comment

  1. Helene Poulin 08/13/2015 at 9:56 AM Hey! I just bought a sorry looking serviceberry tree from Canadian Tire in Rockland, ON, and I can't wait to plant it and enjoy its fruits with all my feathered friends! Thanks for this lovely read! There is hope for me as a gardener, I see...



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Ryan Lundy

Ryan Lundy

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