Fruitful Fruits of the Fall
The end of the growing season is the time to enjoy the fruits of the garden. Unveiled by the falling curtains of leaves are many shrubs and trees that brighten the landscape with vivid fruit. Some of the fruit stays for a lengthy time (like sumach) but many others attract feathered admirers and could vanish in an instant once they are discovered. This is the best time to appreciate the showy features of some overlooked (and underused) plants in our landscape. This summer has been quite good for the production of fruit on many plants.
One shrub to admire is the Firethorn (Pyracantha coccinea). Firethorn produces heavy clusters of orange-red fruit that have the brilliance of fire. The fruit, which has beacon-like properties, can be seen for a great distance because of the contrasting dark green foliage. This shrub is sometimes trained as an espalier form against a wall or fence.
Porcelain berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata) is a surprise attraction in the fall garden. This relative of the grape vine does not justify its existence all summer. It has a lacklustre leaf and borders on being too rampant. Finally after a lot of patience from the gardener, it starts to redeem itself in October. The small, green pea-shaped fruit starts to ripen and turn a light blue colour. It then turns darker blue and finally it changes to a purple colour. This transition happens at differing speeds so that all colours are present on the vine at once. The beauty of this vine is this remarkable array of colours. Unfortunately, the foliage (until it falls) hides some of the fruit. The first week of November is usually the best time to see the display of lilac to amethyst-blue coloured fruit when it is most showy just after the foliage has fallen.
Virginia creeper is a durable, reliable vine that is often dismissed as a garden plant because it is viewed as being old-fashioned. The vine botanically is called Parthenocissus quinquefolia and has dark blue berries that hang down in miniature grape-like clusters. This fruit is also most effective after the leaves have fallen. The fruit stays on the vine through the winter and appeals to many birds as a secondary source of food.
Euonymus are not one of the shrubs that would normally be considered for a list of fruiting plants. Some cultivars of Euonymus fortunei have an adult form that matures to produce flowers and fruit. The fruit is a creamy-white capsule that opens to reveal several round seeds that have an attractive orange-red coating. The fruit is a late winter meal for birds. The cultivar ‘Vegetus’ has large, green, rounded leaves and is quite reliable about producing bright orange seeded fruits.
The rich, red seedheads of the Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) bring back memories to many people of fall hikes through local parks. The fall glory of this large native shrub is from the berries that also delight some 93 species of birds. The colourful fruit can be seen (if the birds don’t eat it) from October until the new flowers appear in May.
Cotoneasters are a valuable groundcover shrub that have become slightly overused in larger landscaping sites. Some of the smaller types are ideal for home gardens and have attractive fruit during the fall and early winter months. One of the best (and most popular) is the rockspray cotoneaster (Cotoneaster dammeri ‘Coral Beauty’). This variety will reliably produce a heavy crop of fruit. The leaves are a glossy, dark green colour which is a nice complement to the fruit. Another valuable groundcover plant is Cotoneaster horizontalis. It has low, horizontal branches that are great for growing over a wall or down a slope. In the fall it is decorated with small, round, scarlet fruit.
The shrub called winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is a true holly that has deciduous leaves. The yellow-bronze foliage falls in early November revealing small red fruit clustered along the stems. The showy fruit gleam like red Christmas lights. This interesting plant is native to an area from Nova Scotia to western Ontario and is hardy from zones 4-9. Each plant is either male or female and both must be nearby to produce fruit. The best growth occurs in a location that has moist, acidic soils although it is growing well in alkaline soils at the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens. This shrub is valuable in the landscape because it is somewhat shade tolerant. More than twenty-two types of birds will feed on the fruit and eventually strip it clean in early winter.
One shrub that has fruit that the birds do not touch is the European Cranberrybush (Viburnum opulus). The vivid, red, berries are bitter and distasteful to birds and humans. The fruit persist into the winter and eventually look like dried, shrivelled, red raisins.
As an alternative, the native shrub called High bush cranberry or American Cranberrybush (Viburnum trilobum) has similar clusters of bright red fruit that is prized by thirty four species of birds. This tall shrub is hardy to zone 2 and has fruit that can be harvested for making preserves or jellies.
Crabapples are a natural to include on a list of plants with notable fruit. Of all the numerous cultivars of crabapples, Malus ‘Red Jade’ is one of the best small trees for showy flowers and attractive fruits. It has small, bright, cherry-red fruits that last well into winter. They resemble a crop of maraschino cherries hanging on the tree branches. The weight of the fruit makes the naturally pendulous branches weep even further. It is a beautiful sight.
The white fruits of snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) hang on the barren stems in early winter. The small shrub is most effective when it is planted against a backdrop setting of evergreens. Once again, the fruit show best in early winter just after the leaves have fallen.
The mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia) has brilliantly coloured fruit in the fall but rarely has it into the winter. Invariably, word spreads that the fruit is present and a flock of cedar waxwings will strip every fruit from the tree in an instant. There are new cultivars appearing in the nursery that have white, yellow, orange, or coral coloured fruits.
Beautyberry, as the name suggests, is a plant with outstanding fruit. Botanically it is Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii. This shrub is originally from China and came into cultivation in western gardens at the turn of the century. The fruit on this shrub are a rich lilac-purple colour. The fruit are produced in small, delicate clusters close to the stems. The best time to appreciate the beauty of the fruit is just after the foliage has fallen in early November.
Whatever the fruiting plant, design your garden so that the fruit (and feasting birds) can be seen and appreciated from your house window. Many plants are particularly attractive if they have a dark green backdrop of evergreens to accentuate their brilliant display of fruit.