Soft Fruit Growing was first published as the third of Raymond Bush’s “Fruit Growing Trilogy”. The other titles were Tree Fruit Growing Volume 1: Apples and Volume II: Pears, Quinces and Stone Fruits. The three books were originally among the 10 Penguin Specials published in 1942 but migrated to form part of the new Penguin Handbook series when it was launched in 1945.
Soft Fruit Growing became the first of the Penguin Handbooks, a series which eventually included 700 titles, all carrying the green barred cover design of the original Specials. The Handbooks, particularly the gardening and cookery titles, were popular in a post-war Britain still coping with wartime austerity, including food rationing. Who knows how popular Penguin Handbook No. 1 could have become if Penguin had used Bush’s full title: Soft Fruit Growing for the Amateur: What to Plant and How to Prune and Manure. With a Chapter on Nuts, one on Mushrooms, and another on Composting ? Bush’s definition of “soft fruit” was, clearly, very broad.
“Fruit can be grown almost anywhere”, claimed Bush, “if you are prepared to take the trouble. However, quite often the most intelligent and ardent gardener can go wrong simply because the trouble he takes is ill-directed”.
Bush approached his subject methodically and the general questions of aspect, soil, nursery material and planting procedures are reviewed first. There follows a detailed discussion of various soft fruits. His range is wide and ambitious. Besides the familiar blackberries, currants, gooseberries, raspberries and strawberries, Bush discusses fruit which must have seemed very exotic to the post-war amateur gardener in Britain; figs, grapes, mulberries, cranberries, barberries, melons and passion fruit. Bush also delivered on the promise of the book’s full title and included chapters on manuring, the use of the compost heap, and the need for, and practice of, spraying. In those days spraying fruit was a hazardous occupation, involving the use of a lead arsenic preparation before the relatively safe DDT became widely available.
Stephen Hayes is a prolific blogger on handbooks for fruit growers, especially those which deal with apples. He describes Bush’s style as “very down to earth” and “trenchant”. Bush was not afraid to advocate tough love and suggested that when faced with an orchard in which cropping levels have fallen, the grower should consider cutting down every other tree.
That sort of no-nonsense, practical advice would have made him an excellent candidate for the panel on the BBC’s Gardener’s Question Time, the long running radio show in which amateur gardeners put questions to a panel of experts. The show was first broadcast in 1947 as How Does Your Garden Grow but, sadly, I can find no record of Raymond Bush taking part. However, he would certainly be a member of my all-time GQT fantasy panel, taking his place alongside Pippa Greenwood and Bob Flowerdew, all under the jovial chairmanship of Clay Jones.