This time of year, the bling in our southern California landscape is often coming from seasonal decorations—the red bows, the shine from the holiday lights, the texture of evergreens, real or not, hung from doors and draped around mailboxes. But there’s another source of (to borrow What Not to Wear‘s mantra) color, texture, pattern and shine that’s longer-lasting, and which doesn’t have to be put up or taken down at an already busy time of year: berries.
I love berries; I love all the fruits and drupes and hips and haws that manifest themselves this time of year; it’s wonderful how much interest they add to our outdoor surroundings. And if you plant them in your own landscape, that’s not all they’ll add; you’ll have a whole new level of color and texture in the wildlife that shows up to eat your berries.
There are many, many colors and varieties to consider; right now pyracantha is making its vivid display everywhere you look. It’s a cast-iron plant—pay attention and you’ll see how often the really big, showy ones are on a neglected bank or are part of the edges of yards where nobody looks (or waters). Pyracantha doesn’t care. It just keeps on putting on its spectacular show from November till late spring or longer. It’s also one of the shrubs Neighborhood Watch experts advise you to plant beneath windows to keep people out; it’s spiny, hence the common name “firethorn.” The spines also mean birds love to use it for cover.
If you’d like to add one to your yard or your own neglected bank, this is a great time of year to make your selection, as the shade varies–below, a very orange variety on an untended slope near us.
If pyracantha doesn’t send you, or you aren’t feeling the thorns, ha ha, you might like the Chinese pistache’s kind of otherworldly pink berries, plus the pistache has that amazing fall foliage:
Or the nandina (heavenly bamboo), one of the few fruit-bearing stalwarts that performs in shade:
There are lots of other tough plants that will give beautiful, wildlife-attracting berries all fall and winter. One of my favorites, the tough, totally-taken-for-granted raphiolepsis or India hawthorne, has beautiful berries; I took the picture below in a medical complex parking lot. Notice this one’s fruiting and flowering at the same time!
The sweetshade tree (Hymenosporum flavum) is a no-maintenance selection that’s been overlooked in landscaping for too long and is due for a comeback. I will wax eloquently about its fragrance in the spring, but for now, check out its fall berries!
Another plant whose fruit is beloved by birds, and which is almost too much fun to be real, because the berries are not one, but two colors, is the strawberry arbutus–the arbutus unedo. They say you can make jam from the fruit, but you can’t prove it by me. I can, however, vouch for its toughness; the photograph is taken from a neighbor who has apparently decided to stop watering every single bit of land he owns. A lot of his plants are now dead, but not this one. Well, maybe that one branch, but I think it’s broken:
Okay, I could go on . . . but I hope I’ve convinced you to notice and enjoy the berries around you—once you start looking, you’ll see they’re everywhere. This seems to be a very berry-ful year, which is strange considering just how little rain we got last year, but perhaps the plants are putting their last-ditch survival mechanisms into play. At any rate, enjoy the literal fruits of their labor, and consider which ones you might like to add to your own garden environment.
And let me know any favorites of yours that I’ve missed!