Bright, Red Winterberry & Juniper Magic: Lovely, Native Ilex verticillata Sparkles & Glows on Grey, Chilly Days…

November 21st, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’, paired here with Juniperus chinensis ‘Sargentii’

In the last weeks of late autumn —after the leaves have all fallen and deciduous trees stand naked and rattling in cold wind— the conifers and fruit-bearing shrubs reign supreme in my garden. Late fall and early winter days —laced with hoar frost and sugar-coatings of fresh snow— are brightened by the glow of colorful berries, twigs and richly hued conifers. All of the delicately textured remnants —needles, seeds and tiny twigs— catch falling ice crystals and snow flakes; like sweets coated in confectioners sugar.

One of my favorite late-season shrubs, the Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’ (common, dwarf winterberry holly) planted in front of my Secret Garden, is a knock-out at this time of year. With bright red fruit ripening in September and holding through January or longer, this shrub is invaluable for color in the winter landscape. Chosen for its charmingly petite, compact size (about 3-5 feet high and wide)  I. verticillata ‘Red Sprite’ is a great choice for softening the edges of walls, buildings and fences. I grow several winterberry cultivars, including the beautiful, statuesque I. verticillata ‘Winter Red’ (9′ x 9′), in my landscape; combining them with conifers and other shrubs and trees to create season-spanning interest in the garden. Juniper make great companions for winterberry, and Juniperus chinensis ‘Sargentii’ forms a lovely, contrasting blue-green carpet in front of the dwarf I. verticillata ‘Red Sprite’. Winterberry are extremely hardy shrubs, (USDA zones 3-9) native to eastern North America. These shrubs are long lived and trouble free; provided they are planted in rich, moist, freely- draining, acidic soil in full sun. I use a thick, organic mulch to conserve moisture and keep the root zone of my shrubs cool on hot summer days. When planting winterberry, it’s important to remember that a male cultivar will be needed for pollination -but only the female plants will bear fruit. In the grouping pictured below, the bare twigs in the background are the branches of a male cultivar. The pollinating shrub needn’t be planted in the same grouping -anywhere nearby will do just fine.

In front of my Secret Garden, Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’ looks like a tasty treat in a confectioner’s window. I snapped this picture the morning after the first snow…

Birds love plump, red winterberries, and will often gobble them up before the end of December. I keep planting more to please the crowd…

The bright red winterberries are even more stunning when snow drifts cover the carpet of juniper in a soft, white blanket

Rock candy mountain – Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’, the morning after an ice storm

Our native winterberry (Ilex verticillata) can usually be found in wet, low-lying areas —places like marsh and swamp land or natural, open drainage areas— where it forms dense thickets. In the later part of the year, the shrubs are filled with colorful, red fruits, which hold until late winter unless they are picked clean by wildlife. Although winterberries are inedible to humans (mildly toxic) they are extremely popular with small mammals and overwintering birds. Gathering winterberry for holiday decorations is a tradition for me, as it is for many cold-climate gardeners. If you are collecting these berries from the wild, please be sure to check with the property owner before harvesting — and never harvest from public parks or protected lands. Always gather branches responsibly; leaving enough for the wildlife depending upon this important source of food. Remember to use sharp pruning shears and make clean cuts at a slight angle (clean pruners with rubbing alcohol after use to prevent spread of disease), as you would on ornamental shrubs in your own garden. Because I have a large garden of my own, I grow enough winterberry to both enjoy in holiday decorations and in the landscape, where I can share with local birds. And when January rolls ’round, I deposit my discarded, decorative branches in the snow for field mice and feathered friends.

If you have the room, it makes sense to grow extra winterberry for holiday decorations

Bright red winterberries sparkle in a vase here in my dining room

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Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

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Bringing Nature’s Beauty Indoors: Decorating for the Holidays with Winterberry, Pine Cones, Bittersweet and Natural Garden Remnants…

November 20th, 2009 § 6 comments § permalink

NB winterberry upclose

Winterberry branches, in a modern glass vase, beside my painting studio door

One of my favorite ways to prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday is to decorate my home and studio with natural remnants from my garden. At the end of my day yesterday afternoon, I stopped along the bank of the Connecticut river and gathered some native bittersweet vine, (Celastrus scandens), for wreaths and table arrangements. Over the past couple of weeks, I have also been collecting pine cones, berry covered twigs and fruit tree branches from around my property. These autumn remnants will fill vases, urns and baskets around my home. Later I will add some berries and pine cones to my wreaths and door swags, setting aside a few extra decorations to give as gifts. When the holidays have passed, I will recycle my decorations by bringing the berry branches back outdoors to provide food for birds. The pine cones will remain indoors, where I will use them to start fires in my wood stove…

winterberry

Gathered winterberry branches, (Ilex verticillata),  from the garden

I started decorating this morning by filling vases with berry branches and baskets with pine cones. Just adding a little bit of color and texture from the garden really brightened the house and lifted my spirits. I thought I would share some photos of my dried table and floor arrangements as I get ready for the holidays. This weekend I plan to continue making simple, decorative baskets and wreaths – so there will be more ideas coming next week. The best part? All of these decorations came from my garden or nature; the only costs are time and energy – both well spent…

pinecones in a basket

Pine cones, dried and arranged in a basket on my kitchen table

NB bittersweet in aletha soule pitcher

Bittersweet, in an Aletha Soule gunmetal-glaze pitcher, on a table in my studio

NB crabapple vase

Crabapple branches in a Richard Foye raku vase in my bedroom

NB winterberry in vase

NB winterberry

Winterberry branch, (Ilex verticillata)

NB winterberry in urn

Winterberry, placed in an urn on the second floor landing of my studio

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Article and photographs copyright 2009, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

Please do not use or reproduce my photographs, for any reason, without permission

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced for any reason without express written permission. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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