Country Gardener

Widely regarded as the authority on gardening in the south west

Berries provide autumn colours of the rainbow

Emma Heard from Bernaville Nurseries near Exeter looks at plants which give extra colour and provide food for hungry birds and wildlife- berry-bearing plants that flourish in autumn, creating colourful displays lasting well into winter.

As we all go in search of ‘berried treasure’ there are a number of ways to fit this collection of wonderful plants into your garden.

If you're stuck for space why not try including small berrying plants such as Gaultheria procumbens, Solanum pseudocapsicum (Winter cherry) or Skimmia japonica with its unbeatable display of bright red berries in your pots and hanging baskets along with the usual violas, pansies and ivies. Small berry- bearing plants included in this year’s arrangements can be removed and planted out in the garden next spring if there's room!

There is a rainbow of berry colours available if you have space for shrubs apart from the usual red, orange and yellow berries found on pyracanthas, ilex and cotoneasters. Pyracantha is an ideal evergreen shrub to grow against a wall or fence and its thorny spines are a great choice for securing garden boundaries as well as proving valuable nesting sites for birds and has flowers that attract bees. Cotoneaster horizontalis makes an excellent choice if you need to cover a bank or low border.

Birds such as blackbirds, thrushes and waxwings will love the berries, quickly stripping stems bare as they feed-up ready for winter. For something a bit different look for the bright purple berries that are found on Callicarpa with Callicarpa bodninieri var. giraldii 'Profusion' being perhaps one of the best varieties to try.

This medium size (up to 3m) deciduous shrub of upright habit grows in fertile well-drained soil in sun or partial shade. Viburnum davidii is one of the best small evergreen shrubs (up to 80cm), and offers ideal groundcover with large dark green leaves that provide a good background for its glorious blue/black autumn berries. If your borders are full, many shrubs can be given a permanent home in large patio pots.

Plant pots using a free-draining loam-based compost. (Check to see if ericaceous compost is required). Always stand pots on feet during winter months to prevent drainage holes getting blocked and pots filling with water, literally drowning their root!

If space allows, many ornamental trees produce bright berries and fruits as well as good displays of autumn foliage colour. Two of the best families are Sorbus (Rowan) and Malus (crab apple), and both make ideal trees for small gardens. There are various forms of these trees for garden use. Sorbus cashmiriana has white berries on long pink stalks and grows to a size of 4-8m. Sorbus vilmorinii has dainty blue-green leaves and clusters of rose-red fruit that fade to pale pink.

This graceful tree (2.5 -4m) is especially suitable for the smaller garden. Sorbus 'Joseph Rock' (8-12m) is a taller upright variety with foliage that turns, orange, purple and red in autumn, contrasting with its butter-yellow berries. Sorbus are happiest on fertile, well-drained soil and don't mind exposed situations.Generally white and pink berried forms hang onto their fruit longest and are a welcome food for blackbirds and starlings.

Crab apples (Malus) are a popular addition to a garden with their spring blossom providing early colour followed by showy crab apples in early autumn, and their colourful display of autumn foliage.

They are considered to be one of the most reliable and easy trees for the average garden. 'Rudolf' is an upright tree (up to 7m) with red-pink flowers in late spring, and edible reddish-yellow fruit in autumn. 'John Downie' is a small vigorous tree (up to 12m) with white flowers opening from pink buds and bright abundant red and orange-yellow fruits. 'Golden Hornet' is a small (up to 12m) tree with white flowers followed by a profuse crop of bright deep yellow fruits which persist well into winter.

Even the smallest garden can provide a selection of foods for birds all year round. In autumn this becomes particularly important, as temperatures start to drop and food becomes harder to find. 'Berried treasure' is a valuable food group for a wide range of species. Ilex (holly) berries are often ripe by autumn, although birds such as thrushes and blackbirds don't usually feed on them until late winter. (So there may be a few berries left for your Christmas arrangements)!

In autumn ivy flowers will attract insects, which in turn provide food for robins and wrens, followed by black berries in the middle of winter that are devoured by everything from finches to starlings. Chaffinches, starlings and greenfinches enjoy the shiny clusters of haws that can stay on hawthorns (Cratageus) until February or March.

Ideal for a limited space as it's a climber, honeysuckle (Lonicera) provides shelter and berries in autumn as food for thrushes and bullfinches. Roses with colourful hips, like Rosa rugosa and Rosa canina can provide interest in the garden in the form of a hedge or in the border whilst their fruits are eaten by a variety of birds and can stay juicy until late winter.

With such a rich and diverse range of plants to choose from it really is possible to fill your gardens and borders with berried treasure this autumn!

Bernaville Nurseries, Three Horseshoes, Cowley, Exeter, EX5 5EU Tel: (01392) 851326

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