Berried Treasures for Winter Colour
The autumn leaves have had their turn and now it’s time for berried treasures for winter colour!
Some berries are revealed as leaves fall to the ground, others sparkle among evergreen foliage and together they provide much of the winter colour in gardens.
Berries and fruits grow on trees, some on screening shrubs or hedges and others as weed smothering low maintenance ground covers. All glow like little jewels in winter!
Great for wildlife
Most will be around until spring. The length of time that they are there to delight us depends on how tasty they are.
Fleshy crab apples and rowan berries are often eaten by hungry birds quite quickly.
But there is more to this than meets the eye. Why, for instance, does the crab apple ‘Red Sentinel’ still have last year’s fruits hanging on the tree when spring blossom is opening? And yet a few yards away the ‘John Downie’ crab has long been stripped bare?
Clearly, wildlife has strong preferences that we don’t fully appreciate.
But not blue?
What is clearer is that most fruits coloured blue are almost certainly going to remain uneaten by birds.
It is no coincidence that slug pellets are dyed blue to make them unattractive to birds!
But, whilst the bright blue berries of Viburnum davidii remain un-eaten, birds in my garden have clearly found that my blueberries are tasty!
The best hardy plants to grow to get berried treasures in your garden are without exception easy to grow. They are tried and tested too.
Here are the ones that I recommend and all can be planted at this time of the year –
Almost all Cotoneaster produce colourful berries readily.
Some such as Cotoneaster ‘Cornubia’ will grow into wide spreading but small trees.
Cotoneaster hybridus pendulus is a great choice for a small weeping tree.
If you need a good dense hedge Cotoneaster lacteus is excellent.
There are lots of ground-hugging varieties too. Cotoneaster dammeri is a superb evergreen ground cover plant never more than a few inches off the ground.
Now even more popular than Cotoneaster, Pyracantha is a strong growing evergreen. It’s strong and vigorous but can be easily controlled and even used for hedges. Alternatively its really good for covering fences or unsightly objects.
Pyracantha is equally happy trimmed and trained against a north or east facing wall.
It’s fast growing and un-fussy about soil types.
Once established this thorny evergreen is a great choice for gardeners of all levels of expertise.
Berry colours vary from dark red through orange to yellow.
Like Pyracantha, Berberis is thorny and therefore a good deterrent to intruders!
The berries on Berberis are small and less showy.
Nevertheless this is a hardy plant that will tolerate poorer soils and exposed locations well.
Some berries are blue but most ripen red and are good food for birds.
Like so many of these plants that produce berried treasures for winter colour the flowers are very popular with bees and other insects!
I’ve already touched on crab apples and how their garden performance varies.
In the South West of the UK I think that, when selecting a variety, it is important to look for natural disease resistance. I’m thinking in particular of scab and canker disease resistance.
If I were to select just one then it would have to be Malus ‘Evereste’. This small tree has a blizzard of bloom in spring and sizable showy fruits that generally last well into winter.
The haws of hawthorn can be very showy. They can be plentiful and persistent but are favourites of the northern thrushes. These birds escape the Scandinavian winter and overwinter in our mild south west corner.
Hawthorn makes a good choice for a native tough hedge and a great place for birds to nest too.
It’s also another good choice for windy situations and less than ideal soils.
Rowan or Mountain Ash
Rowan or Mountain Ash are different names for the same tree [Sorbus]. This small tree offers coloured berries other than the obvious red.
Pink and white berry forms are the least attractive to birds and the berries often remain on trees right through the winter.
However, because of their pale colour, consideration should be given to siting these where the fruits are seen against our often grey winter skies. It’s good to have an evergreen shrub or conifer behind them.
The spindle tree [Euonymus europaeus] is little more than a medium sized shrub.
Look closely at the fruits and you’ll see that they are made up of pink cases with a warm orange seed inside.
They too are a good choice for poor, thin and well drained soils.
The variety ‘Red Cascade’ is an exceptionally showy form to seek out and plant in your plot. This is one of the many great plants selected and named by my good friend Roy Lancaster.
Preferring deep and rich soils, some roses will produce showy ‘hips’ that last well into winter.
For me the best is the tankard shaped hips of Rosa moyesii which are large, showy and long lasting too.
But many rambling rose varieties and species have lots of red hips overwinter too.
Dioecious Berried TreasuresI hope that you will excuse me for using the technical term for plants that have male flowers on one plant and female on another! These are called dioecious plants.
It is important to grasp the importance of this phenomenon if you are to get berries!
Hollies, Viburnum davidii and Skimmia are popular berry producing garden plants where you will generally need to plant both male and female forms.
If your neighbour has a male plant then you might get away with just planting a female.
Of course the berries will appear on your plant but not on theirs.
Fortunately, at least for the hollies and Skimmia, the male forms have other garden worthy attributes such as showier blooms [Skimmia] or variegated foliage [Hollies].
There are many other good hardy plants that display showy winter fruits in our gardens; do you have a favourite that I have not mentioned here? If so, I’d love to hear about them!
If you’ve enjoyed reading this perhaps I’ve whetted your appetite to read more about winter colour with –