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Berried Treasure
by Janet Davis
by Janet Davis


Janet Davis is a freelance garden writer and horticultural photographer whose stories and images have been featured in numerous publications. Magazines featuring her work include Canadian Gardening, Canadian Living, Gardening Life, President’s Choice Magazine, Chatelaine Gardens and, in the United States, Fine Gardening and Country Living Gardener.


October 31, 2010

Gardeners searching out colourful plants for the late summer or autumn garden should think about all those shrubs and woody vines that display their fruits and berries like shimmering jewels. Many berries last through winter, brightening sometimes barren landscapes and providing food for hungry birds.

Here are a few "berry good ideas" for your fall and winter gardens.

American Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens): A native North American woody vine that grows to 20 feet, if given support. It is dioecious, i.e. a male plant which must be grown alongside a female plant to fertilize the flowers and produce the brilliant red berries that emerge from the bright orange seed capsules. Full sun is necessary for bittersweet to fruit prolifically and for leaves to turn yellow in fall. The berries are highly astringent, but are often eaten by hungry cardinals in late winter.

Beautyberry (Callicapra bodinieri): A deciduous shrub, native to China, that bears non-showy lilac flowers in late summer, followed by fall clusters of brilliant purple fruit. Grows to 10 feet in mild climates, much shorter where winters are severe. Hardy to Zone 6b, however the top growth of beautyberry can sometimes die back in winter, so a protected site is needed. The shrub is not particularly shapely; the attraction is the unusual magenta-purple fruit, especially on the improved cultivar 'Profusion'.

Chokeberry (Aronia) Black chokeberry (A. melanocarpa): Native from Nova Scotia to Ontario and south as far as Florida. It grows stiffly upright to three to five feet, with black berries and bright fall colour, especially on the cultivar 'Autumn Magic,' where it's almost fluorescent. Red chokeberry (A. arbutifolia) is native to the American northeast and has bright red fruit and beautiful red fall leaf colour, especially the cultivar 'Brilliantissima'. It grows a little taller than its black-fruited cousin, five to eight feet, but tends to be leggy at the bottom, so looks better at the rear of the border. Chokeberries have white flowers in spring and prefer sun and moist, acidic soil.

Meserve or Blue Holly (Ilex x meserveae): Every Christmas, I trudge through the snow in the backyard and cut stems of my evergreen 'Blue Princess' holly to use in decorations and to garnish the plum pudding for dinner on the big day. (One year, I overestimated the rum needed to flame the dish and the holly looked like it had been in a brush fire). The berries sweeten as they freeze and thaw in winter, and in spring the robins fight over them. You need a non-fruiting male holly to fertilize one or more female shrubs growing within 10 feet. Good males are 'Blue Prince,' 'Blue Boy' and 'Blue Stallion'; females include 'Blue Princess,' 'Blue Girl' and 'Blue Maid' (the hardiest) and 'Golden Girl,' which has yellow berries. Grows eight to 10 feet high and needs moist, acidic soil. In our climate, evergreen holly must be sited in morning sun only, to avoid winter-burn on the leaves.

Porcelain Vine (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata): This is a vigorous deciduous vine that climbs to 25 feet in sun, or light shade, by twining its tendrils on a wire or heavy trellis. It gets its common name from the similarity of the shiny berries (which can be green, blue or mauve in the same cluster) to porcelain beads. 'Elegans' is a choice variegated form which should be planted in light shade to prevent leaf scorch.

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata): This is a deciduous holly that grows seven to eight feet tall and is native to damp places in eastern North America. It has abundant red berries along its stems that persist through winter, until eaten by birds. A male plant is need to produce berries on females like 'Winter Red.'


Originally published Toronto Sun


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