It's the turn of berries, hips and haws to bring colour to our gardens

Fruity beauties: Now it’s the turn of berries, hips and haws to bring colour to our gardens, says Monty Don

Monty revisits one of his classic books, Gardening at Longmeadow, in an occasional series. 

Winter is limbering up around the corner, and soon whole days in the garden will be lost in a sodden grey haze. At such times berries come to the rescue. A berry is the seed-bearing fruit that follows the flower produced earlier in the year. 

Technically, strawberries, blackberries and raspberries are not true berries, while grapes, tomatoes and aubergines are. But we all have a pretty good idea of what we mean by a berry in the garden.

To get the best show of berries, you need to have plenty of flowers and allow them to fade and evolve into fruit. This means tolerating a degree of untidiness in plants such as roses, with not too much dead-heading. 

UK-based gardening expert Monty Don shares advice for getting the best show of berries this season. Pictured: A glorious display of berries, including red pyracantha

UK-based gardening expert Monty Don shares advice for getting the best show of berries this season. Pictured: A glorious display of berries, including red pyracantha

The fruit need summer sun to ripen, so shrubs that flower in May and June tend to make better berry-producers than later-flowering plants.

Of course, some roses have more spectacular fruit – known as hips – than others. Those on early-flowering species roses tend to be best of all. 

Rosa moyesii produces dazzling orange, bottle-shaped fruit and also has wonderful single crimson flowers that speckle the large upright bushes at the back of my Grass Borders in a curiously scattered but deeply satisfying distribution. 

I have other roses that produce spectacular hips, like the great tomato jobs on the rugosas, oval aniseed balls on the dog roses, black ones on the pimpinellifolia, and small dangles of orange on R. cantabrigiensis and R. willmottiae.

For me, hips have an unbreakable link with haws, the fruit of the hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna. The connection is botanical too, as hawthorn is a member of the rose family. 

How to care for cyclamen 

Cyclamen start flowering modestly in my Spring Garden in early August, their pinks and white out of kilter with the falling blaze of autumn.

  • They grow from corms that should be planted now, just below the surface in small groups, in light soil, in the shade of deciduous trees or shrubs – but they’ll grow in the awkward dry shade of evergreens.
  • Cyclamen hederifolium has foliage marked with silvery veins that’s lovely in its own right, appearing only after the flowers have done their stuff.
  • They’ll spread by self-sown seedlings that can be collected and replanted. They will tolerate summer drought and do not mind winter shade, so can be coupled with ferns such as hart’s tongue.
  • They need winter moisture to establish healthy leaves, which makes them an excellent partner for snowdrops.

Hawthorn is much used in the countryside to divide fields, and that is the best place to see the May blossom, but it also makes a really good garden hedge and birds love it. As well as giving you flowers and fruit, hawthorn produces the freshest green spring leaves there are.

Pyracantha is closely related to the hawthorn, and no member of the rose family makes more berries. The flowers are scented with a honey sweetness, and bees love them. 

The more heat and sun that the plant gets, the better the berries will be – which is why those trained against a brick wall produce a better display, thanks to the reflected warmth. The birds will eat them but not until they have stripped the hawthorns. 

I like my pyracantha to be orange-berried, and love ‘Orange Glow’ and ‘Golden Charmer’, but P. rogersiana ‘Flava’ has delightful yellow fruit.

Another rosy cousin, and one I feel much more kinship to, is cotoneaster. It comes in many forms, from the tiny-leaved C. microphyllus to C. salicifolius and C. serotinus, which have more generous foliage. All will grow anywhere with good drainage, including dry shade. Bung a cotoneaster in against a shady wall and you will not go far wrong.

Callicarpa berries are downright odd: purple, metallic-looking and growing in clusters along the stems. 

The shrub is not up to much really – although it has a pleasantly orange leaf colour in autumn – so the berries are the reason for growing it. It needs full sun to perform best and is ideal for growing in a pot so it can be moved into prominence when in berry.

Your kitchen garden: celery

Monty revealed that he sows his celery seed in a seed tray and then transplants the seedlings into plugs (file image)

Monty revealed that he sows his celery seed in a seed tray and then transplants the seedlings into plugs (file image)

I was brought up on celery being served as blanched stalks in a water-filled jar, but when cooked, celery enriches almost any kind of soup or stew, as well as being a fine vegetable in its own right, the heads braised whole. 

Celery can be stringy, but these strings along the stalk are the pathways that carry the nutrients to and from the leaves. This means that so-called stringless varieties are likely to be less robust and smaller.

I sow my celery seed in a seed tray as thinly as possible and then transplant the seedlings into plugs. I then grow them on in a coldframe until they are about 10-15cm high, harden them off and plant them out in a grid. 

I do not water them, feed them or do anything beyond forking in 2.5cm or so of compost before planting out.

I tend to grow self-blanching – as opposed to trench – varieties. I think the reason for my success is the box hedging around my vegetable beds, which provides the perfect shelter against pests such as carrot fly, as well as cold and excess light. It would be easy for a gardener to erect a temporary barrier or fence of fleece that would do the same job.

Extracted from Gardening At Longmeadow by Monty Don, BBC Books, £26. © Monty Don 2012




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