As green turns to gold, the blazing colours of autumn take centre stage in the garden – and autumn berries have a starring role to play.
In this year’s singular weather, the signs were good for a great year for berries, as spring and early summer collided in an explosion of blossom. However, nobody could have predicted summer’s extended dryness and high temperatures, prompting an early autumn, with the Woodland Trust’s Nature’s Calendar project recording blackberries and sloes in July. The stress of these conditions has meant it’s not turned out to be quite such a bumper berry year as we’d expected.
However, October is the time when berries start to shine. Glistening in slanting sunlight like strings of beads, they brighten up the garden no end, and they’re ideal for giving colour that lasts into winter. Here are some of our favourites.
A blaze of colour in winter, Pyracantha is a familiar sight in gardens. Its profusion of brightly-coloured berries lasts well into winter, bringing a welcome jolt of colour to the gloomiest day. It’s a favourite with wildlife, too; not only do the berries offer a welcome source of food for some bird species in colder weather, but the tangle of spiny branches make it a safe haven for nest-building, too.
Pyracantha can suffer from infections such as scab and canker, so opt for a modern disease-resistant cultivar. The RHS recommends ‘Saphyr Rouge’ as it’s resistant to both diseases, and is a fairly compact variety too, making it suitable for smaller gardens.
However, be aware that this popular shrub has a darker side, which should be considered before planting: pyracantha is considered to be mildly poisonous, and a skin irritant. It has plentiful extremely sharp thorns that may cause a burning reaction, giving it one of its names: firethorn.
The aptly-named beauty berry is a real stunner, with its vividly-coloured violet berries. From the lamiaceae family, which means it’s related to lavender and mint, it’s a beautiful plant all year round. Callicarpa ‘Profusion’ is a popular choice, as it fruits well on its own, whereas with some varieties, you really need several plants together to ensure good pollination and therefore plenty of berries. It also has striking bronzy-purple young leaves in spring, turning purple again in the autumn, as the berries ripen.
The berries will last well into winter, and wildlife will eat them, as they’re not poisonous. However, they are very bitter, so beauty berry doesn’t become the plat du jour until all other options have been picked bare.
The cotoneaster family is a great, reliable choice for berries – and it’s one which offers a host of choices for the gardener. From shrubs that are low and spreading, to small trees, there’s a cotoneaster for every garden. It’s a great choice for wildlife, too, with the plentiful white flowers in spring creating a magnet for pollinators, and the autumn berries a favourite with many bird species. Cotoneaster 'Cornubia' is one of the larger varieties, and it’s partially evergreen, so the foliage makes a great backdrop to the huge clusters of red fruit which weigh down the branches as winter sets in. This variety can even be trained fairly easily into a standard shape, to make a really pretty small tree.
Make the most of autumn’s beautiful gems, with berries to bring a sparkle to your garden.