Berries give gardens a lift in winter
Strawberry tree irresistible
During the cooler season we often see an array of small fruit or berries on trees and shrubs, which undoubtedly brighten the winter garden. Three of my favourite for colour are the strawberry tree, heavenly bamboo, and Chinese beautyberry.
The strawberry tree ( Arbutus unedo) is a large shrub or small tree with non-stop appeal. Its handsome foliage is harvested year round, and during autumn and winter it’s hard to resist the allure of its strawberry-like fruit. The fruit starts out yellow and matures to orange then scarlet, with all colours appearing on the tree at the same time. The fruit is edible, but only in small quantities, as it’s slightly toxic. But it does look fabulous picked for the vase. Foliage harvested for the vase lasts more than three weeks, as do stems with fruit.
White, pieris-like flowers appear in autumn, though picking these will mean no future fruit.
These hardy plants are tolerant of most conditions, though a fertile soil in full sun to part shade is ideal. There is no need to prune, unless you want to keep your plant to a certain height. Left unchecked, plants grow 5 metres high x 3mwide.
Another plant known for its winter berries as well as its colourful foliage is heavenly bamboo ( Nandina domestica), which is not a bamboo at all but an evergreen shrub with bamboo-like foliage. During autumn and winter the leaves take on dramatic hues, including red, orange and gold. The plants also produce attractive red or orange berries.
There are a number of different cultivars to choose from, including Gulf Stream, whose leaves are lime-green maturing to a bronzy-rose, and a fiery red and orange in winter. Gulf Stream grows up to 70 centimetres high.
There’s also an attractive dwarf clumping nandina (to 60cm) called Harbor Belle. It has a pink flush to its green spring leaves, and rich burgundy winter leaves. Its cream flowers turn to red berries. All nandinas are hardy plants.
Chinese beautyberry ( Callicarpa dichotoma) has the brightest purple berries in autumn and early winter. The berries (drupes) brighten as temperatures drop, taking on an almost psychedelic sheen. They first appear in autumn, but they’re at their showiest in early winter when the leaves have fallen. The berries are excellent for picking, lasting over a month in the vase before wrinkling. The young leaves, which are bronze-purple, are also used in the vase during spring and summer, although they don’t last nearly as long.
Plants are best pruned after fruiting.
Pruning stimulates bushy growth; left to themselves, the stems may become long and spindly.
Beautyberry tolerates sun or part shade but grows best in full sun in well-drained soil.
It likes an acidic soil; if your soil is too alkaline the leaves will begin to yellow.
Plant more than one beautyberry for better berry set.
Keeps giving: The strawberry tree has handsome foliage.