Holly branches laden with berries are classic Christmas decorations, indeed many a gardener has awoken to find his holly tree in the garden butchered by a stranger in the plunder of these berried branches.
The red berries on plants are such an evocative sign of Christmas, and one which gives us great hope for spring regeneration that I think we should all plant more of these plants. Not only for the aforementioned Christmas decorations but also for food sources for birds during the cold snaps.
Indeed to encourage birds to ‘hang about’ your property is a key stage in reducing your pest problems in the garden.
There are three specific plants I’d like to mention this week, 3 which are ideal for pots around the front door, and of course for the garden when there season of interest passes.
Our first is the Prickly Heath.
This plant produces clusters of bright coloured berries in the winter months, and by bright I mean they could be Red but they could also be purple, pink and white – depending on the variety you plant. The berries come on the female varieties so it’s important that you have a male variety somewhere in the garden so that when these plants come back into flower next spring you have a pollinator at hand, otherwise….no berries next year I’m afraid. A good garden centre will stock both and you’ll only need a single male for a dozen or so plants. Long term keep these in the pots, if you plant them in the garden they will rapidly spread out across your garden and will become a nuisance.
Next is a smaller growing fellow, the checkerberry.
This grows only about 6” tall, so ideal for the front of the container – or even for a wintery hanging basket. These berries are small bright red, almost disguised by the coppery tinged colours of the foliage, and useful in aromatherapy. Long term good for planting into a damp spot in the garden, and is good shade tolerate.
The classic red berry is however the Holly. However, like the Prickly Heath, only the female plants produce berries. So you may have a holly in the garden which has grown like mad but never berried, this is probably a male. We can say probably in that the females are pollinated by insects which cover vast sways of land, so if you have a female variety you’d have definitely had berries at some point. The secret here is to do your homework on varieties, to make sure you get a berrying variety, again a good garden centre will have a selection of holly varieties for sale, all based on their foliage colours, not on whether they berry or not, so ask questions when you buy!
I’d like to take this opportunity to offer my Congratulations to a Raphoe couple, John & Tracey Graham, who celebrate the 1st anniversary of their hugely popular Ballyholey Farm Shop Nr Raphoe this Saturday.
John & Tracey are a young farming family who have strived to raise awareness of Donegal products, Donegal farming and Donegal seasonality through their shop, their social media, their pop-up market at McDaids Butchers, their stall at Letterkenny Artisan Market and their involvement with the Donegal Food Coast Initiative and I think they deserve credit for that.
It always grates me that we export huge amounts of vegetables, but import huge amounts too, why not eat what we can grow?! Tracy has invited all of you Donegal Daily readers down to the Shop on Saturday for cake, buns and tea to celebrate, I’ll be there after 4 for some, so come say Hi if you’re free!
Gareth Austin is resident Horticulturist with BBC Radio Foyle, a member of the Chartered Institute of Horticulturists and Horticultural Lecturer with the National Learning Network. For more see www.garethaustin.com or join Gareth on Twitter @GardenerGareth .Tags: