A Fruitful Show
For the banquet and the beauty, pick berries
The best of the berrying plants bring a ripe and lively beauty to the garden. If you look at it from autumn's perspective, the fruit of the plant is more of a prize than the flower; it's longer-lasting, after all, and arranged in eye-catching clusters.
Choosing berrying plants takes thoughtful consideration, for some berries don't put on much of a show, while others are more persistent in the mess they make than in the display they offer before falling to mush. And while a specimen shrub in full flower is a commanding sight, many berrying plants need to be planted in bulk to have an effect. I recently drove by a block-long row of cotoneasters splayed out over a retaining wall, loaded with hot-orange orbs of fruit. Mine wasn't the only car slowing down to admire the sight.
While some berrying plants are self-fruitful, meaning they don't need pollen from another plant to produce fruit, many require plants of the same species growing nearby. Be sure to ask nursery personnel to recommend pollinators for any berrying plants you decide on.
Here are a few favorites that feed the birds and put on a colorful, fruitful show as the garden dims and days darken:
Beautyberry (Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii 'Profusion') has clusters of little fruit in an artificial-looking shade of sparkly lavender. Shown off against leaves that turn purple, a grouping of beautyberry makes for a display that looks more like a carnival than November in a Northwest garden. If you admire these neon shades, take a look at that old standby groundcover shrub Viburnum davidii with its metallic-blue berries, and the hot-pink and turquoise-blue starry fruits of the harlequin glorybower (Clerodendrum trichotomum var. fargesii)
A fine companion for beautyberry is Cotoneaster x watereri 'Rothschildianus' with its lush crop of golden-yellow berries. A vigorous evergreen with glossy leaves and yellow-green stems, the cotoneaster can take summer drought. Both the yellow-berried forms and the orange-berried C. x 'Hybridis Pendulus' have white or pale-pink flowers in spring, and evergreen leaves with red tints in autumn.
Many roses come into a second season of glory with autumn fruit, especially the rugosas with their splendidly robust and colorful hips. I have a planting of rugosas in the far back hedgerow of my garden, their fat, pumpkin-colored fruits clearly visible all the way across the garden.
My mother used to grow a little hedge of Pernettya mucronata along the top of a rockery where you could clearly see its pearly pastel berries and red stems set off by dark, needlelike foliage. The berries are nearly marble-sized in shades of red, pink and white. From South America or New Zealand, these little evergreens are drought-tolerant, and berry up more luxuriantly if you plant both sexes.
A quest to find the showiest berrying plants is a fine excuse for a nursery or public-garden expedition. There are a great many to be found, from Iris foetidissima that splits open in late autumn to reveal a crop of orange berries, to the fruits dangling from the branches of elderberry, hawthorns, honeysuckle, pyrancantha, mountain ash, barberries, and, of course, holly to carry the garden through the holidays.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle free-lance writer and contributing editor for Horticulture magazine. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.
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