Life Gardens

Sunday 22 April 2018

In the garden: Which creeper is hardy?


Gerry Daly

There are lots of berry-carrying plants in autumn and winter with bright yellow, orange or red berries, but not many with shiny purple berries and that makes the beauty berry a little bit special. It is a very pretty bush of medium to large size. The flowers are very inconspicuous, so it is grown for its berries and good autumn colour leaves.

The common name of callicarpa is 'beauty berry' and, more or less, is a straight translation of the botanical name. The little berries are shiny on the surface and resemble beads, carried in rounded clusters in the angles of the twigs and leaves. The colour is intense but not as easily seen from a distance as yellow or red berries.

It can be planted with other summer-flowering shrubs that have gone bare now and offer little decoration, or berrying kinds such as yellow-berried pyracantha for a dramatic colour contrast, or it could be teamed with a yellow-variegated broad-leaved evergreen such as elaeagnus. It can make a big shrub of more than two metres and needs reasonable room to show off its style.

The variety most often offered for sale is Profusion, a choice strain with purplish young leaves in spring and a good wine-red flush in the autumn leaves before they fall. It also carries a good crop of berries reliably. Callicarpa is native to Western China and it is hardy in most areas, but the summers of its native region are much warmer than here. It can be grown in an ordinary fertile soil that is well-drained and not prone to waterlogging in winter.

QI want to plant a Virginia creeper called Parthenocissus quinquefolia 'Yellow Wall'. I seem to remember someone saying that it is a less hardy variety. Is this true? My house is on the north Donegal coast and I'd like to plant against an open, east-facing wall. How does it compare to other varieties of Virginia creeper?

W Cunningham, Donegal

A It is only different in that it produces yellow autumn colour, and is hardy regarding frost and vigorous enough to grow where you are, but you might find it slow to climb in a very exposed place. Pin it to ground level at the base of the wall and let it decide when it is ready to climb. It will grow away from the direction of strongest winds.

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