Kiwi fruits are members of the genus Actinidia - a group of 40 or so species which are native to Eastern Asia. It’s quite a broad church, ranging from large shrubs to vigorous vines which can climb 30m or more to the top of the forest canopy. They are widespread throughout much of China, Korea and Japan, and even up into the edges of Russia.
The kiwi fruit which we find in the supermarket is Actinidia deliciosa. It’s the national fruit of China and has long been cultivated in that region. In the early 20th century, it was introduced into New Zealand by a school principal who had visited Chinese missionary schools and proved so popular that it was quickly adopted by commercial growers. True Kiwi fruit are hardy down to about -7c, which means that in most of the U.K. they will want a warm, sunny, sheltered spot to thrive. As with many borderline plants, it is often the combination of wet and cold which is fatal, so improve the drainage with plenty of grit if your soil is on the heavy side.
For colder, more exposed sites, choose one of the kiwi berry varieties. Also known as the hardy kiwi, grape kiwi or Siberian gooseberry, it’s another species of the same genus called Actinidia arguta. It’s a climbing plant, similar in growth to a true kiwi fruit, but much hardier. It will tolerate down to -35c in its native Russia. The fruit is smaller - about the size of a large gooseberry - but the skin is smooth, thin, edible and just as delicious.
For more information on growing kiwis in the UK, click here: A Guide to Growing Kiwi Fruit