Sunday, November 23, 2008

Berry Beautiful

Last week it was very cold, and we had a lot of days where temperatures hovered around the freezing point. We even had some snow flurries, which is unusual for November in the DC area.

Because of the cold temps and some very big wind gusts that came with them, I lost what remained of the leaves on my shrubs and trees. The few annuals which remained in bloom faded and shriveled up.

I kind of miss the reds and oranges each year when autumn ends, and this year was no different. But with the leaves gone, the berries are now taking center stage in the garden.

My American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana, pictured at left) has never had as many berries as we’ve got this year. I planted it about four years ago, after buying it from Sam Jones of Atlantic Star nursery. You can find the Japanese ones at almost all the garden centers, but I had heard the American one was out there somewhere. After years of searching I saw that Sam had some for sale at the National Arboretum during the Lahr Symposium back in 2003 and I snapped up a small one for about $5. Although it has grown well in the partial shade of my side yard, it never really had a lot of berries until this year. Now it is a show-stopper, and I have to say it was worth the wait. The berry clumps are bigger and rounder than their Asian counterparts, which I have seen along the path at Brookside Gardens.

The beauty berries are attracting lots of bird attention, too. Before the weather turned, we had loads of catbirds at this shrub each morning. They came in large number but only ate a few berries. Now we are seeing cardinals there a lot, and different kinds of native sparrows. The combination of red cardinal feathers and purple berries is unbelievable. I suspect that the frost has helped to sweeten the berries for them, or perhaps their other food sources are diminishing as the cold increases.

Meanwhile, on the sunnier side of the yard we’ve got mockingbirds devouring our native Winterberries (Ilex verticillata, pictured left).

Some people call these Sparkleberry bushes, and I can see why; the color really pops in the winter garden. They are extremely cheerful looking, and when we had five solid days of grey skies last week I found that I was extra glad I could see them out the kitchen window. It made the dreary days and doing the dishes both a lot more bearable.

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