As Winter really starts to dig its claws in here in the gardens at Chartwell, there is still plenty to enjoy amongst the frosted foliage of our plants, as some of them really start to put on an off-season show. Berries are taking centre stage on many trees and shrubs right now and it’s not only the likes of the festive holly that are grabbing our visitors’ attention.
Right, first the science bit. The botanical definition of a berry is a fleshy fruit produced from a single flower ovary. Grapes are such an example. The berry is the most common type of fleshy fruit in which the entire ovary wall ripens into an edible layer, called the pericarp. A plant that bears berries is said to be bacciferous or baccate. In fact, a fruit that resembles a berry, whether it actually is a berry or not, can also be called “baccate”. In everyday parlance however, “berry” is a term we often use for any small edible fruit.
The Sarcococca shrub seen above, also known as Christmas Box, can be found at the bottom of the Winter Border, which we discussed in detail last Winter in a series of blog posts that you can revisit by clicking here, here and here. As you will see in this blog though, there are plenty of berries to point your camera at all over Churchill’s gardens.
Berries are not just pretty Winter baubles for us to gawk at however. They are an important food source for many birds, especially when the ground is too frozen to hunt worms or snails, and there are few insects about. Some birds, like song and mistle thrushes, blackbirds, redwings and fieldfares, find most of their winter food from berries in fact. Some plants use berries as a clever way to entice birds and other animals to distribute their seeds. A plant that produces berries surrounds its seed in juicy, fleshy pith, rewarding the birds that eat them with vitamins and energy. The fact that the seed might pass through the digestive system of the bird quite a distance from the parent tree means that the plant is able to spread itself over quite a wide range. Some berry seeds, like those of juniper, will actually grow better after passing through a bird’s gut, which removes natural chemical inhibitors that would otherwise prevent the seed from germinating.
While most berries are either red or black, making them easier for birds and other creatures to find, as you can see from the pictures above, there are plenty of other colours available too! Red is still probably the most common berry colour in the garden however, which seems somehow apt at this festive time of year. Here are some of the best:
So come on, get your thermals on and pop down to the gardens here at Chartwell and see how many berries you can find before our feathered friends eat them all!