After the summer perennial show is over, when even the sturdy annuals have lost their freshness, the quiet beauty of berried shrubs and vines begins to stand out in the garden.
They make ideal background plantings to show off chrysanthemums and extend the autumn glow into the bleak months. On a few, berries persist throughout the winter to meet the gleam of earliest spring flowers.
Because most of the shrubs in my garden are from our woods, I use them in informal groupings. Lack of hardiness is no problem with these natives.
Several shrubs of the dogwood (Cornus) family will grow in almost any soil, in sun or shade. Their berries are a favorite food of the wild birds.
(The name Cornus is derived from cornu, a horn, because of the hardness of the wood.)
Flowering Dogwood and Gray Dogwood
The most effective of the native species – excepting our beautiful flowering dogwood tree (Cornus florida) is the gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa) which grows 6 to 8 ft tall.
The dull white berries on red stalks, like lower-keyed white baneberries in effect, glow softly among the long, narrow, purple-toned leaves.
They do, that is, until the birds find them. After that, the bare red pedicels are still decorative, giving a rosy plumed look to the branches and a soft echo for chrysanthemum reds.
Round Leaf Dogwood
The round leaf dogwood (Cornus rugosa) is another medium-sized shrub, valuable for naturalistic plantings in rich or shady places.
Its flat, loose flower clusters, larger than those of the gray dogwood, are borne in May and June and followed by showy light-blue fruits in early fall.
The bayberry, or candleberry (Myrica pennsylvanica) with silvery gray, waxy berries crowding close to the stems, is an important middle-sized shrub for late fall garden beauty.
Birds like these berries, too. The flowers are hardly noticeable, but the dark green foliage has a pleasant summer pattern and persists late into the fall.
A group of these shrubs, which rarely exceed six feet, is most effective. Be sure to include one male bayberry in your planting, however, or you will have no berries.
A Holly (Ilex)
The brilliant red berries of the winterberry, or black alder, are less attractive to the birds. Ilex verticillata is the botanical name of winterberry, which is a deciduous (and dioecious) holly.
The berries may last through the winter, if you provide sufficient other food for the birds, and if you do not use all of them yourself among Christmas greens!
This is a tall holly, reaching 20’ feet, and thus useful in the small garden only as specimens – though again you must have both male and femaleófor varying the background.
So jubilantly red are its berries against the bare black twigs that it contributes greatly to the garden. Our specimens fruit more abundantly in some years than in other years. In good years, it is a spectacular winter tree shrub in poor years, it is still satisfactory.
The Black Haw Viburnum
The black haw (Viburnum prunifolium) is a special favorite of mine, as much because of the angular beauty of its form as the charm of its flat-topped pure white flower clusters in early May, and the small, blue-black, edible fruits on reddish stalks in September and October.
It also is a large shrub, growing 12’ to 15’ feet high, with spreading branches and dark green leaves which turn a wonderful deep red in the fall.
I had always been rather scornful of Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergi) until seedling shrubs from a neighbor’s planting began to appear along our woods’ paths.
The individual plants are far more desirable in a garden than one would guess from seeing them grown as a hedge. The form is graceful, and the lavishly produced brilliant red autumn berries last well into winter.
The small leaves, flame-colored in the fall and deep green in summer, are arranged in decorative patterns on the thorny stems. This shrub can be transplanted with ease and seems to be free of disease.
One of the shrubs I have bought is the firethorn (Pyracantha coccinea var. Lalandi).
From early autumn until winter is nearly gone, graceful sprays of orange-red berries cluster thickly along its branches, among the oval, inch-long evergreen leaves. The clusters of small white blossoms appear in early summer.
This agreeable though thorny shrub will stand free. as a bush that will require some shaping, or lend itself to easy espalier treatment, growing as high as 20’ feet against a wall.
It likes a sunny well-drained situation, is vigorous, and fairly reliably hardy in this climate. I do use evergreen boughs in midwinter to screen my young plant, bought in a small pot for a few pennies a few years ago, and is already a strong young shrub.
And of course, I see that it goes into winter well-watered.
Nearby, some wild bittersweet vines (also dioecious) twine around the trunk of a small sapling.
In late summer their light, almost lettuce-green leaves offer a refreshing contrast to the tired foliage roundabout, and in fall the clusters of orange berries seem to echo the firethorn berries until the three-lobed outer husks split to show the red fruits within.
This sturdy vine (Celastrus scandens) sufficiently decorative to deserve a place in your plantings, should properly be called false bittersweet to distinguish it from the quite different vine.
The nightshade (Solanum Dulcamara) was named bittersweet by early experimenters who said the chewed root tasted first bitter, then sweet.
This solanum grows in profusion in moist shady places, bearing lavender to purple flowers and both green and ripe berries simultaneously. Since the berries are poisonous, this vine should be grown with caution.
I have a specimen that arranges itself with grace over a shaded, spring-blooming shrub.
The long-persisting bright red berries, the many small flowers, the leaves green into November, and even the green berry clusters are attractive. They are good for informal flower arrangements, too.
Another vine so easily grown that it has escaped into the wild is the Japanese clematis (Clematis dioscoreifolia var. robusta) which will clamber over bushes, fences, or trellises, and forms a decorative pattern with yellowish stems and broad triangular leaves.
The fragrant white flowers appearing in September are lovely, but the clusters of tawny-yellow fruits make this vine outstandingly ornamental.
In most cases, shrubs should be chosen for value in both spring and fall, but just as I like certain shrubs which can be recommended only for the beauty of their bloom, so do I cherish a few remarkable for their fall beauty alone.
Shrub: Callicarpa Dichotoma
Callicarpa dichotoma (purpurea) is one of these. It is of uncertain hardiness here and the flowers are inconspicuous. The small bright lavender berries seem to belong to the mineral rather than the vegetable kingdom.
Borne close along the stems they have more than enough beauty to offset the unimpressive flowers and foliage of this shrub.
It is usually root-hardy here, and since the jewel-like berries are produced on new wood, it can be cut back each spring and will grow three or four feet high during the summer.
Winged Euonymus: Spindle Tree
The winged euonymus or spindle tree (Euonymus alatus) has much to offer. Though the yellowish flowers are unimportant, it is a sparsely berried, solid appearing shrub of rounded form and great beauty.
In October, among the glorious rosy-red small leaves, single pendulous, purple-capsuled fruits swing from the green branches. Later these capsules burst, revealing bright red cores, like pointed “red-hot” candies.
The bark is green and firm, curiously striated with white lines; the branches have interesting corky wings. This shrub is not for the border such individuality deserves specimen-planting status.
These are but a few of the shrubs which are colorful in the fall. There are many more, including some species of roses and shrubby, berried evergreens from which to choose.
44659 by Molly Price