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On a Chalk Hillside January 2021

Autumn/Winter colour – berries, hips, seedheads

Strangely we woke on 1 January 2021 to a white landscape.  Deep deep frost that lasted until late afternoon.  So whilst this article is about autumn/winter colour, I shall start with a photo representing the colour at the very beginning of the new year:-

During the second lockdown, as I said last month, lots of the autumn colour in the garden was more noticeable from berries hips and seedheads than from leaves.  For example last month I showed you the leaves of two different cotoneasters in autumn colour – horizontalis and Franchetii, but both shrubs also have lots of red berries on.  I expect you are all familiar with the Cotoneaster horizontalis berries – as below this shrub is in our front garden:-

The blackbirds have left these til 1st Jan, and the serious frost shown above caused them to jump on these and gorge themselves.

But because my various Cotoneaster Franchetii are seedlings grown (by birds!!) from the berries of the original mother plant I have several slightly different forms of the plant exhibiting different configurations of leaf and berry – eg one with more glaucous, closer together leaves with berries as so:-

That one stays more evergreen with less leaf colour change.  And another variation, a seedling from the same mother, which I have growing as a tree in a pot with more spread out leaves, and a more generous amassing of berries:-

This one as you can see has the more deciduous habit and lovely leaf colour in autumn.  The birds had sown one against one of the fence posts in the orchard before we moved here, and it has this type of bountiful berries, whilst retaining more evergreen leaves like the first example above.  I have used photos of this to make Christmas cards for family before now as none of the holly bushes in the garden (also sown by the birds from berries) actually makes berries.  Not to be too indelicate here, but bees obviously fly less far pollinating from a female holly bush to a male one than a bird whose digestive system is passing a berry through it and pooping it out in our garden.
Raising the tone again, another small round berried shrub we have here – these ones not yet planted out into their hedging position -  is Pyracantha ‘Orange Glow’ which is a mass of vivid berries from September onwards.  The birds don’t start on these berries for ages, preferring the red ones first:-

As you probably know, this pyracantha has vicious thorns – I have one against the fence in a border behind a cardoon and am forever skewering my head through my hat as I weed underneath it, so my husband asked for some more to make a dense hedge up near the house at the back figuring it would help deter cats from jumping over there after coming over next doors flat roof.  A winter project this year!

Some rose hips stay on through the winter, but these from Rosa glauca change from cinnamon colour to this deep red in late September, and then fade away by Christmas – but they counterpoint the lovely Golden Rod (Solidago) seedheads. Is it any wonder I find seedlings popping up EVERYWHERE, I can never bear to dead head the solidago before they go this beautiful silver, and look almost furry in texture:-

Another hip that falls during October/November (and gets squelched under foot) is that of the Dog rose (Rosa canina) that is growing through the Hawthorn Tree by the main path down the garden.  However the Scotch Burnet Rose (Rosa pimpinellifolia) keeps its hips intact as you can see from 9 November:-

The birds have the haws off the Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) first of all things in this garden – I managed to remember to take a picture of them actually on the tree at the end of October – just as well, by late November they’d all gone:-

Not all berries are vivid colours – in my native hedge I have a bird sown privet (I assume Ligustrum vulgare) with black berries:-

Unlike the Berberis darwinii berries which are also black, and get gobbled by the song birds in the summer, these berries get left and left and left.  I can’t blame the birds for eating the sloes that come on the Prunus spinosa in my native hedge – the culprit is two legged……

How come my husband manages not to get the wicked blackthorns thorns in his fingers whilst stealing sloes, but I do when I come to prune the hedge in late Oct/early Nov?

As I showed you the privet berries, here is another member of the Olive family growing in this garden with its black berry prominent in November:-

This is one of two olives that have reached full ripeness on the Olea Europaea tree on the Mediterranean Courtyard this year, despite it not being that fantastic a summer for sun and heat.
Another source of black berries in December is the climber Jasminum officinale, whose berries start green and go black – here on 24 November:-

Having complained about the lack of hips on the dog rose in the Hawthorn tree, at the beginning of the second lockdown the Rosa canina in the native hedge has magnificent hips still – accentuated by the Ivy behind it:-

I had been so taken with this accidental juxtaposition last year (the ivy is NOT supposed to be growing there!) that I tried it deliberately elsewhere, moving a Rosa Canina in a pot to overarch an Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’ (also in a pot, and getting straggly)  – taken on the same day:-

Even once the leaves have fallen from the Guelder Rose, (Viburnum Opulis), the red berries remain in November:-

From October the main colour in the bog garden comes from the seeds of the Iris foetidissima as the seedheads burst open – these remain all winter shining away, indeed the only colour in the bog garden on 1 Jan with all that deep frost, but shown here at the end of November:-

Another pleasing juxtaposition is made by the Acanthus Mollis seedheads with the Winterflowering Honeysuckle leaves behind them (Lonicerapurpusii ‘Winter Beauty’), here at the end of November:-

These big black shiny seeds make quite a statement, but if any of you have tried to harvest them for the HPS seed collection you will know the papery brown surrounds are spikey and sharp, and after a lot of painful struggling the fat black pods might not have any viable seeds inside them.  This year I left them in situ to admire with the lighter green leaves of the Winterflowering Honeysuckle behind them.  The leaves do gradually drop leaving just the flowers sweetly scented behind:-

Another plant that flowers in November and December is the Fatsia japonica, still in flower on Christmas Day.  Here it is on 26 November:-

In milder November/December’s the peacock butterflies use this as a major food source, but this year the weather was too cold for them to be out.  

I’ll finish with a shot across the rose garden – our view from the house during the winter, taken mid-December:-

As you can see, on the fence and the five bar gate behind the seats the honeysuckle Lonicera periclymenum ‘Graham Thomas’ is evergreen here, the tiny blobs at the end of the rose in the middle are the hips from the Scotch Burnett rose mentioned above (Rosa pimpinellifolia).  You can clearly see the seedheads of the Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) towards the right – much beloved of the goldfinches through the winter. The mass of green leaves bottom right is the Geranium x oxonianum f. thurstonianum which is also evergreen here.  In the three metal planters are pots of my variegated ivy that I am bulking up by cuttings – the one on the right is one big plant, the other two planters are full of smaller plants growing on.  This is a lovely mottled white on green leafed variety I took originally as a cutting from a plant in my Mum’s garden, which I think is possibly Hedera Helix ‘Mint Kolibri’.  In the urn, which is in my husband’s particular eye line from his seat on the sofa is a Carex buchananii, and some rooted cuttings of the hardy fuschia ‘Mrs Popple’ I am growing on for planting out in a new border next year.  
Next time I shall talk about snowdrops.

Sheila May.

Posted by Sheila May

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