Do you need a pop of colour for fall and winter? How about some vibrant berries that not only look fabulous but also provide food for our over-wintering birds? To take full advantage of their beauty, they should be located in an area where they can be enjoyed at their prime, while also blending with companion plantings to balance the year with four seasons of colour. Also as many of us now live closer together in higher density situations, by being creative, many berried plants can double as privacy screens. So even in small spaces, winter berry colour can provide us with multiple uses.
Yes they have thorns, but fast-growing evergreen pyracanthas provide some of the most stunning berry displays. Their orange, red or yellow berries simply glow in autumn sunshine. Their greatest ‘wow’ impact is achieved when they are fanned out against a fence or wall in an espalier form. Birds love the berries, especially during cold, snowy weather when little other food is available. When the neighbours’ pesky cats and dogs come onto our properties and leave little ‘treasures’, pyracanthas make a beautiful but thorny fence or barrier to deter them. Pyracanthas need a sunny location to berry up well. Saphyr Red, Orange and Yellow are some of our favourite varieties, and are fantastic performers.
For a privacy screen, the willow leaf cotoneaster (Cotoneaster salicifolius) is one of the best. Fanned out on a simple trellis, this very fast-growing evergreen will fit the bill in sun or partial shade and even on small space balconies. Its willow-like leaves are thornless and can be easily trained along a balcony railing or fence. Masses of white spring flowers turn into vibrant red berries all winter – berries the birds also can enjoy.
If you have window boxes or planters that need a spark of colour and life, the beautiful and tasty berries of wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) will add that finishing touch. With their glossy leaves and huge berries, they thrive in both garden beds and planters. They need well-drained, preferably barky, blended soils. Red, white and even pink varieties of wintergreen are available.
Our native evergreen lingonberries (Vaccinium ovatum) are also a winter superstar. Their smaller tart but tasty winter berries have high levels of anti-oxidants, like their cousin, the blueberry. They are perhaps one of the most under-used plants in today’s gardens.
If purple is your colour, then callicarpa is your plant. Nothing screams purple like these deciduous shrubs that perform best in sun and are equally at home in planters or ground beds.
In winter they look outstanding with a complementary planting of dusty miller. Callicarpas are even sold as cut flower stems for indoor enjoyment.
Speaking of cut stems, the most popular of all for great berry colour is the deciduous holly, Ilex verticillata. Growing about 2m tall and wide, it’s an average looking green shrub until its tiny flowers, which bloom up and down each stem, turn into the most magnificent fall and winter berries. Their masses of shiny berries become the centre of attention throughout the winter, unless, of course, the birds discover them. As their leaves drop, all you can see is red, or on some of the newer varieties, gold. For Christmas displays, a few stems popped into a container really turns heads. *Please be aware that you need the right combination of both male and female plants to make this magic happen, and unfortunately for our winter 2022 season, we have only a very limited supply of shrubs (but lots of lovely cut stems available!).*
If you like anything blue, then viburnums come to mind. Viburnum tinus ‘Spring Bouquet’ is another of the most under-used plants. This sun lover, growing up to 1m in height and in a compact form, is full of bronze buds that open continually all winter with tiny white flowers, while last spring’s flowers now display tiny blue berries. The bronze, white and blue combination is quite subtle, but beautiful and you get to enjoy it all winter. ‘Spirit’ is another excellent viburnum t. variety that is very similar to ‘Spring Bouquet’, with more pink-toned buds than bronze.
These are but a few of winter’s multi-purpose superstars ready to add some zip to your small space garden or large container, not only in fall and winter but year round. Best time to plant? Ten years ago. Second best time? Today!
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