Gardening in Langley: Berries visible throughout the year

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  • Nov. 4, 2015 5:00 a.m.

Berry options are year-round

Native berry-producing trees and shrubs are among the most beautiful, useful and entertaining plants you can have in a garden.

Once birds arrive to feed on them, they’ll often stay to do pest control – and in unusually long dry summers the extra food can actually save their lives.

First of the year is Indian Plum (Oemleria cerasiformis) which leafs out at the beginning of March. Even before the fresh, green leaves are full-size, multiple clusters of drooping, white tubular flowers open. The ink black berries ripen before anything else and are eaten faster, too.

Another native beauty is salal (Gaultheria shallon). This can easily be grown in the Lower Mainland and has a year-round presence since it’s evergreen and has pretty clusters of white bell-shaped flowers.

The blue-black berries that follow in late summer can be turned into jams or jellies if the birds don’t get there first.

The red elderberry (Sorbus racemosa) has a spectacular spring presence with flat clusters of lacy white flowers followed by fiery clusters of red berries. By summer’s end, birds have stripped the lot. They’re reputed to be poisonous for people.

As June begins, salmonberries are opening beautiful, single pink flowers which are quickly followed by deep red juicy raspberry-like berries. Birds gorge on the few that the bears leave behind.

At the same time, the white flowers of thimbleberries quickly develop into mid-red, rather dry berries which don’t last long in bear country. You have to value the immense wildlife value of salmonberries and thimbleberries to tolerate them in a hedge. Salmonberries have some deterrent value because of their prickles, but both have wandering invasive roots like raspberries. Just like raspberries, thimbleberries and salmonberries are difficult to corral in one place and it’s very hard work to dig them up.

Another useful addition to a native plant hedge is the red-stemmed dogwood. The native one is Cornus stolonifera, but the kind sold in garden centres is usually Cornus siberica. All kinds produce usually white berries which birds love to eat in late summer.

It’s a three-season plant with brilliantly red stems in winter, flat heads of lacy white flowers in spring and eye-catching white berries in summer. It’s very easy to grow.

There’s also a yellow-stemmed version.

Then there’s the mountain ash (rowan tree).

There are dwarf native ones, but the European rowans are also fully entrenched in B.C. Birds love the berries, especially when the fruit ferments while still on the tree.

Huge numbers of birds congregate in the trees gorging on rowan berries and after eating don’t fly too well and tend to crash into windows. Most survive because after partying, they can’t fly very fast either.

European rowans are just one of the plant immigrants finding a welcome from wildlife in B.C.

If it’s food and tastes good birds and animals will eat it.

The Himalayan blackberry is a notorious example.

It’s an aggressive pest, but its fruit is delicious, nutritious and loved by birds, bears and humans. In fall, I love to pick from the Himalayan blackberry plants that escaped me in spring.

The rest of the year I try resolutely to exterminate them.

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