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Get Growing: Berries galore

It’s been a fantastic year for berries on ornamental plants.

My Meserve holly is simply covered with red berries just waiting for a flock of robins to swoop down and devour them. The crabapples are laden with “crabs” and viburnums have oodles of red or blue berries. I stopped at a friend’s house the other day and her Ilex verticillata and a Viburnum trilobum (cranberry bush) were aglow with red fruits. She said they also planted low-bush blueberries and partridge berry groundcover, all for the birds.

Everyone has been noticing the abundance of berries for the birds. Some people have asked about alternate year fruiting. That is true of many apples and other edible fruits but I don’t think the ornamentals are quite so predictable. This just seems to be a fantastic year. Why? Good weather in the spring, no frost at the wrong time, adequate moisture and then plenty of sun. In recent years we have experienced late spring frosts, drought and searing temperatures at odd times.

This fall look for unusual berries such as Callicarpa canadensis with amethyst purple fruits. There are some lovely specimens at Smith College and there is a huge planting of them at the New York Botanical Garden, which I noticed and photographed on an October visit last year. Years ago I considered planting this unusual shrub because its purple berries would be prominent during Homecoming Weekend at Amherst College, my husband’s alma mater. However, we never did despite the college colors being purple and white, a decision I regret.

Many viburnums sport wonderful colorful berries but the native ones are susceptible to the nasty viburnum leaf beetle and need spraying in late spring and summer. Elderberries have long ago been gobbled up by hungry birds but if you plan things right next year you could make elderberry jelly or even wine in early summer.

Other good berry shrubs and small trees are Sorbus or mountain ash, Amelanchier or service berry, Cornus (dogwoods) of many species including the ground cover bunchberry, and Aronia (chokeberry).

The trend in gardening these days is to provide more than one season of interest and fall means colorful foliage as well as berries for the birds. The leaves of trees and shrubs are turning gold and red, orange and purple this week and the display should be good thanks to cooperative weather. Do take note of specimens you like and inquire about the variety so you can plant them in your own landscape. And thinking ahead to winter (ugh), look for woody plants that display unusual bark like birches, beeches, certain maples and pines and stewartia. Exfoliating bark is tantalizing against the snow.

GREEN BUILDING TOUR: NESEA, the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association, holds its annual Green Building Open House Tour tomorrow throughout the Northeast. There are sites in Amherst, Hadley, South Hadley, Northampton, Easthampton, Montague and South Deerfield. Admission is free, but hours vary according to the site. Among the really local ones is South Amherst Congregational Church, which installed solar panels this summer. For details about the tour and the houses visit nesea.org/gboh.

CONTAINER GARDENING: Fall Food on the Farm in Holyoke tomorrow features Container Gardening. Learn how to grow vegetables and herbs in containers on your deck, balcony or porch. Participants will plant salad greens and herbs in their take-home planters, harvest cilantro from the garden and learn to make pasta with broccoli and cilantro pesto. Fee is $5. The event takes place at Land of Providence, owned by the Trustees of Reservations. For more information and directions go to thetrustees.org.

GARDEN WRAP UP: Learn how to prepare gardens for fall and winter with division of perennials, cutting back, mulching and soil amendment as well as planning for winter interest at a workshop at the Berkshire Botanical Garden Thursday, from 10 a.m. to noon. Fee is $27. Call 298-3926 to register.

GROWING GARLIC: If you miss Ron Kujawski, retired UMass extension agent, with his excellent knowledge and sense of humor, take a class on Oct. 12, with him on growing garlic at the Berkshire Botanical Garden. Fee is $27. You’ll take home some garlic cloves to plant. Call 298-3926 to register.

MASS HORT HONORS: The Stockbridge School of Agriculture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst will receive a gold medal at the annual honorary medals dinner of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society on Oct. 17. Reservations are due by Oct. 11. The keynote speaker is William Cullina, executive director of Coastal Maine Botanic Garden. He will receive the top honor of the George Robert White Medal. Tickets are $125. Call 617-933-4945 for more details and to reserve a seat.

CRITTERS: Squirrels, chipmunks and other rodents are frantically piling up their stores for winter. Deer are out browsing. In fact we’ve seen some near Plum Brook in Amherst, which really isn’t deer territory. Alas the brook is home to beavers and last week my yard man discovered they had trundled up the slope to attack my ‘Cortland’ apple tree. Fortunately, the damage was very fresh since I had been out there just a couple of days before Josh arrived. He quickly found some wire fencing in the barn and circled the tree. So far, the beavers have been deterred although I worry they may next taste the nearby paper birches. The dread woodchuck that lived under my neighbor’s deck was finally trapped. At last my blue verbena is blooming merrily in the pots on the front granite steps that the critter climbed daily all summer long. Thanks, neighbor, for your persistence.

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