Trees and shrubs that can de­liver a holly good show every win­ter

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - GARDENING - BY DIAR­MUID GAVIN

We are now in the dark, some­what gloomy months. We’re be­gin­ning to ex­pe­ri­ence oc­ca­sional frosty blasts, and parts of the coun­try have even been blan­keted by snow. As a re­sult, our gar­dens can look shriv­elled: our peren­ni­als have re­treated, sum­mer bed­ding is but a dream, many trees are nude and lawns are damp and vul­ner­a­ble to dam­age.

But hope shines through with a won­der­ful range of win­ter berries dot­ted through­out trees and shrubs. Berries en­sure the sur­vival of some species through the seeds they con­tain — which may go on to be ger­mi­nated and be­come new plants — and they also pro­vide food for hun­gry gar­den birds. And berries can be brought in­doors for dec­o­ra­tion in the fes­tive sea­son and act as an in­door re­minder of the won­ders of the nat­u­ral world out­side.

Holly and its vivid red berries are syn­ony­mous with Christ­mas. In Chris­tian sym­bol­ism the prickly leaves rep­re­sent the crown of thorns, the berries the blood of Je­sus. At the mo­ment, holly bushes are laden with their crop, which some be­lieve in­di­cates a harsh win­ter ahead. How­ever, good fruit crops are the re­sult of good weather past, not prophetic signs of the fu­ture. Pyra­can­tha bushes are also ablaze with in­tense dis­plays of orange and red fruit.

But look fur­ther afield and there are shrubs and trees pro­duc­ing berries rang­ing from white and yel­low through to blue, pur­ple and vi­o­let. The snow­berry, Sym­phori­car­pos, was once widely planted in Vic­to­rian and Ed­war­dian times in shrub­beries and as game cover but is no longer pop­u­lar, pos­si­bly due to its vig­or­ous suck­er­ing and spread­ing habit. The plump white fruit is a gift to birds, how­ever, and looks pretty in the hedgerows.

My favourite Co­toneaster is C. lac­teus, which has richly coloured berries set against lush green fo­liage. It’s an ever­green shrub which pro­duces small, orange-red berries which aren’t ap­peal­ing to birds or other an­i­mals, so they tend to sur­vive on the plant and make a great show over­win­ter and right through to March. The plant is closely con­nected to hawthorns and pyra­can­thas, and all pro­duce flowers that are at­trac­tive to in­sects and bees. Co­toneaster likes soil which is on the dry side and re­ally dis­likes any wa­ter­logged soil. It thrives on chalk.

Sor­bus ‘Pink Pagoda’ drips bunches of pink berries which fade to white in win­ter. It makes a won­der­ful spec­i­men for a small back gar­den as it is petite but grace­ful in sil­hou­ette and has great au­tumn fo­liage as well. ‘Pink Charm’ is an­other good variety with shock­ing pink berries.

For un­usual coloured berries, Cal­li­carpa bo­d­inieri ‘Pro­fu­sion’ wins the prize. It goes un­no­ticed as a shrub for most of the year but come au­tumn it pro­duces berries of a stun­ning lilac-pur­ple hue. Best planted in groups for good crop­ping, it is other­wise known as Beau­ty­berry. Also pro­duc­ing berries in the pink-to-pur­ple colour range is Gaulthe­ria mu­cronata. Re­lated to the heather fam­ily, it needs lime-free soil to flour­ish and will look won­der­ful planted amongst its re­la­tions such as win­ter flow­er­ing heathers.

Sea­side dwellers will be fa­mil­iar with the sea buck­thorn, the hard-to-pronounce Hip­pophae rham­noides. This is a great wind­break plant for coastal lo­ca­tions. It is thorny with nar­row sil­very leaves and glow­ing orange berries — the sil­ver and orange make a striking com­bi­na­tion. Vibur­num da­vidii is so widely planted that we some­times for­get to ap­pre­ci­ate its beauty. It has deeply-veined ever­green leaves and where sev­eral shrubs are gath­ered, they will pro­duce vivid blue berries in win­ter. The more, the berrier: To prop­a­gate from berries, pick them when they’re com­pletely ripe and soft. Mash them through a sieve so the pulp goes through and you’re left with the seed. Sow in gritty com­post, cov­er­ing seeds lightly and leave out­side to ger­mi­nate. Some may need more than one cold sea­son to get go­ing.

WIN­TER CHEER: vivid red holly berries and the rich orange hues of the pyra­can­tha bush

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