Monday 11 December 2017

Gardening: Add a splash of colour with berries

Brighten up your winter garden with berries, says Marie Staunton

Brighten up your winter garden with berries
Brighten up your winter garden with berries

Marie Staunton

At this time of the year when we are short on flowering plants, the berried trees and shrubs come into their own. Thankfully, they bridge that gap between winter and the first signs of spring to keep our spirits up.

January can be a very long, unproductive month in the garden, so it is nice to have a bit of berried colour to hold the interest.

The effect that the long, unusually hot summer had on autumn leaf colour last year influenced berried plants too.

Pyracantha and Cotoneaster are two fine examples of plants that relished all that heat after successful pollination and produced an amazing display of berry colour this year.

It is often said that an abundance of berries can be a sign of a bad winter, but with all the vitamin D we gleaned from the fabulous summer just gone, it shouldn't knock a feather out of us.

Some Cotoneaster varieties have vibrant red/orange berries, none more so than the variety called Cotoneaster bullatus. This is a sizeable plant, growing to around three metres or so, but it is worth considering as a back-of-border plant, too.

Make sure you have it in full sunshine where it can bask all summer long and produce a wonderful display as the year draws to a close.

Except for the need for full sun, Cotoneasters are not too fussy about soil type and can manage well enough in drier conditions. If you are looking for one that is a true performer in tougher conditions, choose Cotoneaster frigidus Cornubia.

The added advantage of this one is that it hangs on to some of its foliage, being a semi-evergreen variety.

Some varieties have tiny berries and are ground-hugging, while others would look great flanking a wall. Just before some deciduous varieties drop their leaves, they turn the most beautiful shades of amber and dusky pinks.

Nurseries all over the country have a great selection of Cotoneasters to choose from -- all you have to do is find a little spot for one in your garden.

Only prune-out overcrowded stems in spring, and if you would like to propagate your own, take some cuttings in early summer.

Use a mix of two parts peat or peat substitute to one part silica sand, take the cuttings from the tips of the stems and firm them into the propagation mix. Keep an eye on them for water, and with a bit of luck they will root in four to six weeks.

The obvious choice around this time of the year of course is a holly, and they make very good topiary specimens.

Flower arrangers love them, not just for the berries but for the glossy foliage. We have a yellow-berried one which, though not very traditional, looks fantastic at this time of the year. Look out for a variety called Ilex aquifolium Bacciflava if you fancy a bit of a change from the red-berried varieties.

One of the great advantages of travelling on buses, especially when you have a seat on the upper deck, is that you get to have a peek over a wall or two without making it really obvious.

Along the number 42 route, just as you are coming into Artane, there is a spectacular Pyracantha which was so laden down with berries just before Christmas that I thought it might keel over.

Even with the very threatening thorns, they have a place in a garden along a sunny wall where they can show off beautifully in winter.

Pruning them can be a bit of a chore, but when done at the correct time of the year will ensure a good display of berries.

Prune them in mid-summer, but take care not to overdo it, only taking back stems that are out of hand.

They flower and then fruit on stems that have made growth the previous year, so if you are too slap-happy with the secateurs you might just take off too many flowers which results in fewer fruits.

Less is more, and it's only a pity I didn't heed my own advice when over-indulging during the festive season or I wouldn't be eating this rabbit food now!



Email your questions to 

I came across a plant recently with leaves like a holly but it had tubular flowers. Will they grow in Ireland?

It sounds like the Desfontainia plant which has holly-shaped leaves and very pretty red and yellow flowers. They like a lime-free,humus-rich soil in partial shade. The Desfontainia spinosa grows well with other acidloving plants including Camellia and Azalea in a woodland setting. If you are in the Botanic Gardens in Dublin, you will see them along the path to the right that leads you around to the heather beds.


I want to buy one of those small crab apple trees for my front garden. Have you any suggestions? We have a west-facing garden.

Malus ‘Evereste’ is a beautiful tree and can get to roughly seven metres in height in ideal conditions. Not only do they have a stunning display of flowers in spring, but come autumn and into winter they have gorgeous orange/yellow fruits. This is a tree that will fit in nicely and is very undemanding in terms of soil and site. As with all fruiting trees, they do require a nice bit of sunshine to ripen up the fruit, but they will have no bother in a west-facing garden where they will get the afternoon sunshine.

Irish Independent

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