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: Festive Autumn Centerpieces from Garden to Table…

November 20th, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

Curious Dinner Companions: Dried Leaves of Sago Palm Add a Light, Golden Touch to Traditional Gourds and White Pumpkins

At long last, it seems that the season of feasts and festivities is finally upon us. And like many of you, I am looking for ways to bring the garden’s bounty to my dinner table: pumpkins, squash, carrots and potatoes from the root cellar; peas and berries from the freezer; and fresh greens and alpine strawberries from the hoop houses in my potager. But the garden offers endless delights for the eye as well as the taste buds, and I always like to dress up the house, holiday buffet, and even everyday place settings, with arrangements from the natural world.

From bittersweet-twined jars and low bowls filled with floating candles and cranberries, to luminous hurricane lamps surrounded by pinecones, crabapples and seedpods, I continue to bring a bit of nature’s beauty indoors throughout the late fall and winter. And in creating a few new festive, table-top scenes, it occurred to me that I should pull up some of last year’s photos and decorating ideas from the blog archive. Though many of us are living on tight budgets these days, with a little creativity, a beautiful centerpiece for the dinner table is always within reach. Autumn walks along riverbanks, train tracks and woodland paths last week revealed tangles of bright orange bittersweet, resin-tipped pinecones, bright red hollyberries and a jumble of seedpods amongst the tawny meadow grasses. Bring a bag or basket along next time you take a stroll through the park or walk the dog through the wastelands. You may be surprised and delighted by the natural curiosities you will find. And while it’s possible to spend a fortune on holiday decorations, I often find that bits of twine, recycled jars and old wine bottles topped with candles are just as pretty as more expensive ornaments.

Here are some free and inexpensive ideas from the archive, and you can bet there will be more to come! After all, I always find that getting ready for the party is half the fun!

Bittersweet Vines Wrap Around a Glass Jar to Create a Floating Candle Centerpiece

A Minimalist Centerpiece: Floating Cranberries and Candles in a Low Bowl

Gathered Pinecones and Crabapples Make a Festive and Elegant Centerpiece, Indoors or Out (shown here on a table near the entry to my studio)

Golden Amsonia shimmers in a hand-blown glass vase I brought home one year from Italy

Winterberry Holly Branches Fill an Old Urn (Ilex verticillata)

Ornamental grasses (like this Deschampsia flexuosa) catch the light beautifully, indoors as well as out

A Homemade Terrarium Filled with Native Plants (See more terrarium ideas and step-by-step tutorials here)

A Vase Filled with Dry Hydrangea Paniculata Dresses Up a Stack of Books at the Foot of the Stairs

See More Garden Remnant Ideas from the Archive By Clicking Here and Here Too!

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Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

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

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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