More Than Just A Berry – with Garden Landscaper in Dublin Eugene Higgins

January in the garden is, as a general rule a fairly dull month, if I did not know any better I would consider hanging decorations outside to brighten things up. Thankfully this drastic meausure is not required as Mother Nature had pondered on this, and produced a far more resourceful option Berries .There are considerable amount of Winter Shrubs and Trees that come ready to go in strong primary type colours of red, orange, yellow and white and occasionally even purple. Berries make a considerable impact on a winter garden produced in abundance they are not shy. They have a different job than summer berries that laden down our dessert bowl and hapilly wont get blown away.

Berries are produced on mass in the Winter months but there function is quite often misunderstood. An example of this unfortunate confusion involved a client of mime enquiring if there was a product that she could acquire, to spray on to her garden Berries to deter the birds eating them, it was admittedly a splendiferous display. This kind of radical action sums up how some gardeners don’t quite see the bigger picture. Amazingly there once was once such product, but now is thankfully banned.

Berries are a huge source of nutrition for the various birds visiting the garden in need food. The thing to understand about a having a descent display of Berries is that the plant needs to flower first “No Flowers No Berries”. In simple terms a plant needs potash to be present in the soil. If for some reason the relevant plant or climber is not flowering, though in most gardens the balance in the soil will be correct, the likes of Tomato Food that is bursting with potash will correct the problem if applied from early in spring when growth starts. It is important to remember though, that Tomato Food will only encourage flowers, and is not a fix all plant food and if possible get the very smelly but far better organic version.

Berries entice birds and other animals to distribute the plant and tree seeds. A plant that produces berries surrounds its seed in juicy fleshy pith which is the white skin under the skin of the fruit which rewards the birds that eat them with vitamins and energy. The native Ivy of Ireland and Britain is Hedera Helix Hibernica is an example of this , its black berries produced in winter in abundance , the dry pith of ivy berries contains nearly as many calories as Mars bars which as we know help us work rest and play. When the bird digests the pith and juice, the seeds travel undamaged through the bird’s gut, and will be dropped many miles from the parent plant. It’s no coincidence that lots of young plants or trees grow near a fence or post that a bird might perch on. Berries also provide for insects and animals including hedgehogs, badgers, mice, squirrels and even foxes will all happily feed on them. All sorts of fruit are attractive to insects, and if you leave them where they fall in the late summer and autumn they will attract numerous butterflies to their syrupy goodness.

Fallen fruit can also provide birds with a cold-weather treat so if you want to plan for the winter and make a saving on costly bird food put some in the freezer in the early part of the Winter and save it for the winter bird table.

So what to choose- probably the best know is Cotoneaster, first it produces a mass pretty white flowers in summer, which then turn to rich red berries which last throughout autumn and winter. There are a considerable amount of varieties including Cotoneaster Cornubia which is one of my favourite Trees. It is a stunning small semi evergreen tree with thin glossy dark green leaves it can have some leaf drop in a particularly cold Winter but the abundance of berries helps to distracts from this.

Pyracatha is more versatile with it berries Red -“Red Column” Yellow -“Soleil d’Or” and Orange- “Orange Glow”. It is used almost exclusively as a climber for walls or against the house or a fence you’ll find far more visiting your garden for a bite to eat while the weather’s cold in winter. Pyracantha can cope with shade but won’t be as prolific at producing the all important berries. An impressive display of white spring flowers, followed by the berries, that are loved by blackbirds and it should be noted have substantial burglar-defying thorns. It prefers and its large white, bee-friendly flowers are quite the display during the Summer.

Sorbus or Mountain Ash is a medium sized Tree easily grown , with lots going for it ,as it can tolerate a wide range of soils and even windy sites. The huge crops of bright red berries in dense hanging bunches attract birds of all kinds in the Winter. Sorbus Acupparia is one of the most common with extremely red berries, they are some what under used these days ,they are very popular with birds for good reason as they are high in vitamin C. If there is enough to go round it can be made into a jelly , though I’m told reliably, the berries do not taste overly pleasant. In the past alcoholic liquor called diodgriafel was brewed from the berries in Wales. All Sorbus trees are deciduous and the dark green leaves have a very sweet scent which attracts lots of pollinating insects. The name Mountain Ash comes from the similarity of the leaves to the Ash Tree.

The Holly (Ilex) is another famed for its red berries plant breeders unsurprisingly have given the relevant varieties misleading names. ‘Golden King’ is a female; ‘Golden Queen’ is a male. Make of that what you will, so a reputable nursery may need to be visited, to get suitable advice before planting. A single Holly can avoid the dating process if a suitable mate lives in a nearby garden i.e. within 225 metres approx this will allow love to flourish. Holly berries will only grow on 2-year-old growth so don’t prune back to severely as you will cut this growth off and don’t prune in the Summer or Autumn any cutting should be completed in winter or early spring.

Skimmia are evergreen shrubs growing to about 1m high and roughly the same spread so it is a small manageable type plant .They originate from Japan and China and can suffer from too much sun, needing at least semi-shade, but are far happier in full shade. Skimmia “Japonica Reevesiana” has probably the most prolific display of Red berries of this family offset by its dark evergreen leaves. I use this plant on a regular basis in the Winter for instant effect remembering though that it will need to be moved to shade promptly in the Spring . Once again if you want to get berries from year to year you will need some male plants. They are partial to a soil without to much lime so adding an Azalea or Rhododendron Ericaceous compost when planting will definitely help its well being in the long term.

Other plants with Berries….

Pernettya is a small evergreen shrub that in winter it produces bright marble sized berries in white, red and purple. Like the Skimmia it needs Azalea friendly compost added to flourish but will mange a sunny position. Rather unsurprisingly to get the berries to return year to year, a male and female plant is required. One note of caution the berries are regarded as toxic so I would not recommend planting them if young children in the house as it will definitely catch there eye as the Berries look like demented Smarties as a result may have a very tempting look in the eyes of a child.

Callicarpa Bodinieri loses its leaves in the Winter but make up for it as it produces polished type berries of the most unusual shade of purple throughout autumn and into winter. As a small shrub, it’s suitable for growing in containers , not only does Callicarpa looks great growing in the garden, but it’s also a popular flower arrangers’ choice for winter bouquets. Perfect for brightening up the garden and relatively fuss-free to grow.

Symphoricarpos Mother of Pearl commonly known as ‘Snow Berry’, is a lovely small shrub, with big pearly-pink bead-like berry clusters throughout autumn and winter. Growing to a compact size it will tolerate shade well. Easy to grow and can also be grown into a small hedge.

Top Tips

..1… To help birds with springtime nesting put the fur from pet grooming to good use by putting it outside so that birds can use the fur and line their nests in February and March

.2… Conifers look striking this time of year. Their variety of colour, texture and shape is immense, but make sure to research there eventual height as they vary greatly. I love planting Cupressus Sempervirens Pyramidalis because they naturally keep their pencil shape with very little pruning and bring a graceful feel to the garden.

..3..Weeds are surprisingly active at the moment, as they will grow when the temperature is above 6.C, so taking evasive action against them is important over the next few weeks to stop them getting suddenly out of control.

..4 If your pond freezes over then pour hot water to gently melt a hole in an ice covered pond. Don’t chip out a hole out as this sends unpleasant shock waves to the many hibernators like frogs that have bedded down for the winter. If you float a tennis ball in the pond this will prevent it freezing over again.

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