Berry good

A few years ago, a clump of winterberry hollies (Ilex verticillata) in the shaded, side garden had no berries. I supposed there were two issues explaining this lacking. First, the closest male holly for pollination was on the far side of the garden, and while I figure that bees are fully capable of traveling across the garden, the second issue, the shaded location of this grouping was the second likely factor. There are few flowers in this moderately deep shade, so if I’m a bee, why bother?

Berries of this winterberry holly will soon turn red. Berries are not as heavy as hollies in more sun, but this is an acceptable number in the moderately deep shade of the bigleaf magnolia.

In any case, a year ago I planted a male holly very close, and before flowering, so pollination was at least partially successful, though berries were not abundant. This year, there are many more, so despite the shaded location the bees will find flowers, and with both male and females this leads to berries. Much of building and tending of a garden is experimentation, determining the proper sun exposure as well as the ideal soil moisture for any particular plant, and I’d be quite pleased if the formula for success was always as simple as male plus female in close quarters equals berries.

Back in the days when ‘Fosteri’ holly (Ilex × attenuata ‘Fosteri’) was most popular, I obtained a trial sample for a Dixie series of hollies (above) that was somehow supposed to be an improvement over ‘Fosteri’ that was prone to dropping numerous leaves when transplanted in spring, but otherwise was an exceptional holly. Nothing ever came of the holly series which disappeared before its introduction, but I still have one, heavily shaded along the driveway, growing beneath another clump of winterberry holly and a large ‘Jane’ magnolia. Its stunted growth in the shade has never been surprising, but in the last year it has gained a bit in vigor, and after years with a few sparse berries, the branches are now cloaked in berries that will soon turn to red.

The white berried, variegated ‘Duet’ beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Duet’, above) is sparsely berried, again, but I think there are fewer than in previous years. I assume the scattered berries are its nature, and I suppose it still justifies its place in the garden with its brightly contrasted foliage that shows well even while it is (appropriately) placed twenty feet off the path where it grows with exceptional vigor. While I claim some slight understanding of the formula that successfully resulted in holly berries on the far side of the garden, I haven’t a clue what’s happened here. But, I don’t expect to understand everything. Often, I just mindlessly enjoy.

The other purple and white beautyberries are more accessible and on track for a typical berry crop, and it is curious that the earliest to turn are purple beautyberries in shade that I would expect to be slower. In recent years I’ve seen a bit of an issue with Asian beautyberries seeding about. Certainly, there are not dozens of seedlings, but a few that have sprouted in areas where I don’t see them until they have some size to them. So far, none are problems, though I did have to do some radical pruning to one beside the koi pond that climbed to about fifteen feet with a boost from low branches of an Okame cherry. Since it was chopped it hasn’t been a problem, but I need to check more closely so it doesn’t become a problem again.

Only the variegated foliage of ‘Duet’ has much interest until it flowers, so I have hardly kept track of two American beautyberries (Callicarpa americana. below) planted a year ago. The American native is distinctive for berries that wrap around the stem, and while most references proclaim the superior berry crop of Japanese cultivars, I am quite satisfied with the abundance on the natives. Two recently introduced beautyberry cultivars have flowered for a longer period than others, so berries are slower getting started. We’ll catch up on these in a few weeks.

Callicarpa americana berries just beginning to turn in mid September.

Last on today’s update on September berries are the black seeds (above) that give blackberry lilies (Iris domestica, until recently known as Belamcanda chinensis) their name. I started with a handful of lilies, but after collecting and cultivating seeds for several years I now can give away handfuls each spring that are started in late winter in the greenhouse. The flowers are splendid (below) and they easily fit into small spaces that are often the only spots available in this garden.

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