Beautiful berries thoughout winter
Feed the birds-and save your berries
Viburnum farreri- fill your winter garden with scent
Just like birds gardeners are often scavenging around the garden during winter. The birds are looking for something to eat and the gardener is looking for a flash of colour. It may sound like there would be a conflict of interests here but ornamental berries and fruits can provide sustenance for both parties if your choice of plants is carefully selected. I don't think there are many among us who would begrudge finches, robins, bluetits and blackbirds a seasonal feast, in fact most of us love to see this bit of nature in our gardens and positively encourage it.
But, by December, many of the fruits and berries on our garden plants are stripped bare particularly if it has been a cold start to winter. As a rule birds tend to go for the red berries first but there are execption to this. Amelanchier canadensis and Amelanchier lamarkii have small black berries and they are eaten almost immediately. Amelanchiers are also known by the common names Juneberry, serviceberry, snow mespilus and probably locally many others too. This proves a good example as to why plants have a definitive Latin name to stop any confusion.
Another exception to the berry rule is Skimmia japonica which has red berries that are never eaten at all. These can persist nearly continuously giving a berry display right throughout the year. Skimmias are dioecious meaning you need male and female plants to get berries. Male varieties include the green flowered 'Kew Green'. the well known and popular 'Rubella' and the sweetly scented 'Fragrans'. Good berrying females include 'Olympic Flame', 'Nymans' and the white berried 'Kew White'.
Ilex [holly] is another plant that requires seperate male and female plants to produce berries. I have found the birds very hit and miss regarding eating holly berries, although literature will have you believe they are mad for them. Ironically Ilex 'Silver Queen' is a variegated male plant and Ilex 'Golden King is a variegated female. Ilex 'J.C. van Tol' is an almost spineless green leaved self pollinating variety but I would still recommend planting two to get the best berrying results.
Gaultheria mucronata , formerly Pernettya, although not strictly dioecious is also best planted not singly but in groups, say of three or more. This is fine as this fantastic groundcover plant looks better when planted en mass. It is probably the most impressive of all the berrying plants producing an abundance of mable sized fruits in colours white, pink, red and purple. These will take you well into January's austere regime and help brighten the grim post Christmas days.
Red berried Cotoneaster species are often one of the first plants to be raided by the birds with the varieties 'Cornubia' and horizontalis being particularly popular. The also red berried Cotoneaster lacteus which reddens slightly later in the season will last well into the new year because of this and the yellow berries of Cotoneaster 'Rothschildianus' are taken only if the birds are very hungry.
The red berries of the Sorbus, mountain ash, are also high on the desirable list with the birds. Named varieties like 'Embley', 'Red Marbles' and sargentiana are examples. The white berries of Sorbus cashmeriana and yellow ones of Sorbus 'Joseph Rock' are largely left untouched or at least until the glistening red ones have been devoured which could be well into the New Year.
Although not berries crab apples provide great fruit colour for winter interest and a valuable food source. They are popular with blackbirds but they seem to hold off eating them until later. Locally I have seen Malus 'Golden Hornet' and in my own garden Malus ' Brouwer's Beauty' covered in yellow crab apples still as are the red Malus 'Profusion' and 'Red Sentinal' varieties. Malus 'Gorgeous' and 'John Downie' have orange red fruits.
An unusual plant to look out for is Callicarpa bodinieri 'Profusion' with dense clusters of violet fruits at its leaf joints.