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Plant Life Valerie Easton

The Gems Of Autumn

We can look forward to fall when berries abound

Maybe berries are nature's compensation for the garden's autumnal decline. Every year I forget how fast the slide into winter happens, am shocked again at how early it grows dark. It helps to spot berries glowing through the leaves, or to cut a branch of viburnum dangling glossy clusters of perfect round fruit for a fall bouquet.

As flowers fade and leaves drop, berries prevent the garden's descent into monotonous green, or worse yet, brown. Birds swoop in to dine, livening up the place. At least there's a lot of happy bustling going on out there amid the ruins of the garden. The trick is to plant enough berrying plants so you can enjoy them along with the foraging birds.

Since plant fever grips us in springtime, that's mostly when we shop and plant. Who thinks about fall berries on a May morning when the entire bloom season is ahead? And yet we should, because it's possible to choose plants with showy berries, or ones with fruit that mostly disappears in the foliage. This is the time to visit nurseries to hunt out turquoise, yellow and pink berries as well as the more expected reds and oranges. Could we, even in the midst of spring plant frenzy, consider a plant's berries as thoroughly as its color and fragrance? Flowers inevitably give way to seed-bearing fruit, so we may as well make the most of nature's seasonal rhythms.

These are the vital questions: How large are the berries? What color? How early do they come on? Is the fruit shiny, matte, bumpy or near-neon? Every plant should earn its place in your garden, as much for its fruit as for its size, shape and flower.

To saturate your garden with fall fruit, layer berries high up, low down and all spaces in between. Ground-huggers like mondo grass, liriope and dwarf blueberries display their fruit between ankles and knees. You don't need to bend over or look up to enjoy the berries on heavenly bamboo (nandina), viburnums, pernettya, shrubby hypericum and the smaller roses. One of the loveliest sites in the autumn garden is leaves drifting down to reveal berries dangling overhead from the branches of mountain ash, serviceberry and dogwoods.

A plant I'm very excited about is the new, to me anyway, Corokia 'Tutti Frutti,' with orange and yellow leaves and vivid orange fruit. It's so new I can't even find a photo for you, but believe me, it's worth tracking down. And how about blue flax lily (Dianella caerulea), an Australian perennial with tall sheaves of shiny purple berries? Don't ask me where to buy it, I wish I knew. It's been on my list for ages. If you find it, please let me know where.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of "A Pattern Garden." Her e-mail address is valeaston@comcast.net.

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