Brighten a cold landscape with trees and shrubs that produce colourful berries in winter.
The most famous of the winter berries is holly, but other plants produce bright berries over the cooler months, like the orange-berried sea buckthorn. Small fruits add interest to the garden, and provide vital food for wildlife.
Callicarpa bodinieri 'Profusion' is an ornamental shrub that's grown for its brilliant purple fruit. 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 starting to pucker.
To keep them neat, plants are best pruned after fruiting, although they can be kept tidy by frequently harvesting the berries. Pruning also stimulates bushy growth; left unpruned, the stems can become spindly.
Beautyberry tolerates sun or part shade but grows best in full sun in well-drained soil. It likes an acidic soil; if yours is too alkaline the leaves will begin to yellow. Plant more than one plant for better fruit set.
It's not the flowers that give Symphoricarpos albus its ornamental edge but its snow white berries, which appear on slender, wiry stems in autumn and winter. When the plant's leaves drop in late autumn, the fleshy round berries stand out even more. Luckily, birds do not find these white berries attractive so leave them alone. Florists, however, love them for winter bridal bouquets, but be aware that the berries are poisonous when eaten, so keep them out of reach of young children.
Snowberries are relatively slow-growing, but these deciduous shrubs eventually reach a height of 2m. They are best planted in an open sunny position in low-fertility soil (they're native to dry, rocky slopes) to maximise fruiting. They're extremely hardy plants, coping well with heavy frosts.
Small clusters of pink and white bell-shaped flowers are produced in spring, which can also be picked for the vase. But whereas stems of berries last more than a week in water, the flowers last only 4-7 days. Make sure you change the water regularly; dirty water will quickly shorten the life of the berries.
Holly may be the quintessential redberried beauty, but many other shrubs produce colourful winter fruit too.
Take skimmias. These evergreen shrubs are valuable for their multi-season displays, with fragrant white or yellow flowers in spring and summer, followed by bright red berries in winter. Most skimmias are either male or female, so you need to grow both to ensure the females produce berries. A few are self-fertile but they will still flower better when there is more than one plant in your garden. Plants grow best in partial shade in moist but free-draining soil.
The leaves of nandina often take on a reddish hue in winter which complement their cheerful red berries. The nandina berries hang on for much of the year. It is worth growing a plant if you want berries for picking.
Schefflera arboricola is an exotic relation to our native seven-finger ( Schefflera digitata) and makes a small tree with spectacular autumn berries (if you allow it to head upward) that last well into winter.
And yes, hollies ( Ilex spp.) produce spectacular red berries in winter, though some forms have yellow or black berries. 'Blue Angel' is self-fertile variety, producing masses of red berries that birds love. Plant it in sun or partial shade.
Celebrate the season by making a beautiful berry wreath and suspend it from a door or outdoor trellis. Snowberries, with their pink tinge, make a romantic decoration for weddings and birthday celebrations. Cut berry-laden stems and secure them to your wreath base with florist wire. Make a base by twisting flexible stems to form a wreath, or wrap an existing wreath with strips of burlap and attach a burlap tie.