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Berries Of Winter

Ilex verticulata - Winterberry HollyThere are Holly berries, Bayberries (pictured below), Beauty Berries, Blue Cedar berries, Partridge Berries and Teaberries. Then there are all the berries that are not called berries, like Bittersweet, Rose hips, Choke Cherries and even Nandina. Most of these are red! That makes them all the more beautiful when used with shiny, fresh evergreens.

It is awesome collecting greens and berries and using them in decorations this time of the year. I am chilled as I sit and write this as I just recently came in from the back porch of the shop where I have been decorating wreaths with berries galore! Most are hot glued to the wreaths with the clusters of American holly berries the most intense and beautiful. The berries are so very heavy this year that I pluck off the leaves in order to see just the vibrant red or gold berries. There are also the long woody branches of deciduous holly. These rustic additions add charm to any arrangement. Both of these grow on the property and are quite plentiful.

Some other berries and fruits look great in arrangements and on wreaths, but they do not last long. That is why when I use crab apples, persimmons or other fruits I try to keep the wreath or arrangement either outside or in a very cool spot.

Beautiful cones and pods such as magnolia pods work well with berries too. Shiny Magnolia leaves and soft pine boughs also look pretty with natural collections of materials. Sometimes I use Pepper Berry. That is usually collected by my aunt in Florida and sent up to me. It also looks nice either fresh or dried on wreaths.

One of my earliest memories of using Teaberries and Partridge Berries goes back to making winter gardens or terrariums. I learned to do this as a 4-H member in the 6th grade. I loved making these for gifts so I had my Dad take us to the woods to dig up Teaberry plants with their shiny leaves and tasty red berries. We usually added a few ground pine (Lycopodium) , colorful Partridge Berry, and Pipsissawa plants. The later with deep green and white striped leaves. Those beautiful glass bowls with woodland plants and moss lasted all winter on a table near a northern window where it was cool and bright.

Bayberry A thin layer of charcoal, some pebbles for drainage, a layer of woodland soil and the plants were put in that order. Once watered the bowls last all winter with a lid on them. (I have always loved these bowls, so it was a great coincidence that the year I was away at college and didn't make them, one was the first Christmas gift to me from Ted, who later became my husband.) All four of these plants are disappearing in our state because so many of the forests are being cleared for homes, the plants are being destroyed along with their habitat. They are very specific as to their requirements and need certain woodland conditions to survive. They rarely survive being transplanted. Sometimes if they are nursery grown, Partridge and Teaberries will grow in a sandy but woodsy, semi shaded spot that has acid humus in the soil. The pipsissawa may grow if the conditions are matched to their woodland environment, but the ground pine cannot be moved successfully.

A walk in the winter woods at my son's farm in Greenwich N J revives all the berry memories. I might even make a winter garden in a bowl again this year!

Lorraine Kiefer is the owner of Triple Oaks Nursery and has been a garden writer since 1972. Click here to email her.

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