Pacific Northwest | November 23, 2003Pacific Northwest MagazineNovember 23, home
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A Fruitful Show
For the banquet and the beauty, pick berries
The fruit of Himalayan honeysuckle (Leycesteria formosa) starts out green, turns to deep red and then purplish-black, so that each dangling cluster often has berries in three different colors. Birds love the large, juicy berries, but be warned — this handsome, tropical-looking deciduous shrub can spread a little too freely in some gardens.
JUST ABOUT NOW there's a pause in the gardening year, or maybe it's more of a gasp. We've finished all the fall cleanup we're likely to before rain and darkness set in, bulbs are tucked away underground, and hoses coiled in the garage. Outdoors, the trees and shrubs are shedding the final remnants of leaves, anything herbaceous has pretty much turned to pulp, and the hellebores and witch hazels are weeks away from bloom. The only color left is from whatever berries the birds have left behind. But this isn't quite as forlorn as it sounds.

The best of the berrying plants bring a ripe and lively beauty to the garden. If you look at it from autumn's perspective, the fruit of the plant is more of a prize than the flower; it's longer-lasting, after all, and arranged in eye-catching clusters.

Choosing berrying plants takes thoughtful consideration, for some berries don't put on much of a show, while others are more persistent in the mess they make than in the display they offer before falling to mush. And while a specimen shrub in full flower is a commanding sight, many berrying plants need to be planted in bulk to have an effect. I recently drove by a block-long row of cotoneasters splayed out over a retaining wall, loaded with hot-orange orbs of fruit. Mine wasn't the only car slowing down to admire the sight.

While some berrying plants are self-fruitful, meaning they don't need pollen from another plant to produce fruit, many require plants of the same species growing nearby. Be sure to ask nursery personnel to recommend pollinators for any berrying plants you decide on.
Illustration Now In Bloom
Hawthornes (Crateagus species) are one of the last trees to shed their leaves, often holding onto both foliage and berries through November. These easy-to-grow small trees are part of the rose family, and are particularly tolerant of a variety of soils and either sun or partial shade. They have clusters of little white flowers in May, but are at their showiest in autumn when the foliage turns red to orange and they develop small, bright, apple-like fruits that attract birds.
Another fine reason to use berrying plants in multiples is to feed the birds. As the plants die down, the rustle and flash of birds keep the pulse of the garden beating. Best for bird buffets are plants that keep their berries late into the year, such as wild roses and snowberry.

Here are a few favorites that feed the birds and put on a colorful, fruitful show as the garden dims and days darken:

• Beautyberry (Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii 'Profusion') has clusters of little fruit in an artificial-looking shade of sparkly lavender. Shown off against leaves that turn purple, a grouping of beautyberry makes for a display that looks more like a carnival than November in a Northwest garden. If you admire these neon shades, take a look at that old standby groundcover shrub Viburnum davidii with its metallic-blue berries, and the hot-pink and turquoise-blue starry fruits of the harlequin glorybower (Clerodendrum trichotomum var. fargesii)

• A fine companion for beautyberry is Cotoneaster x watereri 'Rothschildianus' with its lush crop of golden-yellow berries. A vigorous evergreen with glossy leaves and yellow-green stems, the cotoneaster can take summer drought. Both the yellow-berried forms and the orange-berried C. x 'Hybridis Pendulus' have white or pale-pink flowers in spring, and evergreen leaves with red tints in autumn.

Many roses come into a second season of glory with autumn fruit, especially the rugosas with their splendidly robust and colorful hips. I have a planting of rugosas in the far back hedgerow of my garden, their fat, pumpkin-colored fruits clearly visible all the way across the garden.

My mother used to grow a little hedge of Pernettya mucronata along the top of a rockery where you could clearly see its pearly pastel berries and red stems set off by dark, needlelike foliage. The berries are nearly marble-sized in shades of red, pink and white. From South America or New Zealand, these little evergreens are drought-tolerant, and berry up more luxuriantly if you plant both sexes.

A quest to find the showiest berrying plants is a fine excuse for a nursery or public-garden expedition. There are a great many to be found, from Iris foetidissima that splits open in late autumn to reveal a crop of orange berries, to the fruits dangling from the branches of elderberry, hawthorns, honeysuckle, pyrancantha, mountain ash, barberries, and, of course, holly to carry the garden through the holidays.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle free-lance writer and contributing editor for Horticulture magazine. Her e-mail address is

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