Our big winterberry bush (Ilex verticillata) cracked at its base, unable to withstand the weight of the snow in the freak October storm. Its branches are now added to the pile of debris from the storm waiting to be chipped, and their perfect, round, glossy red berries–so treasured for Christmas decoration–are dry and shriveled. Usually I cut the winterberry branches I want for the holidays sometime in November before the birds get to them, for they are often picked clean by December. I store the fruited branches in a bucket of water until I need them. But this year, for that touch of red in holiday bouquets, I am relying on the linden viburnum, V. dilatatum ‘Erie,’ shown above, which is planted along our driveway and is still ladened with shiny fruit. The berries are small and slightly oval in shape, but born in such profusion they offer quite a show. This viburnum never looks shabby–the fruit will linger through most of winter, and the graceful mass of twigs on the eight-foot shrubs will be dressed all spring and summer with broad, lustrous, ribbed leaves. White discs of flowers cover the branches in May.
Do admit. Hydrangeas add punch to the garden with their blowsy blooms from summer right through fall and into winter, their fat plumes turning from green to chalk white to pink to rose to buff. Of course I am referring to the Hydrangea paniculata hybrids such as ‘Limelight,’ ‘Tardiva,’ Quickfire,’ and ‘Little Lamb.’ From August on, I depend on them for my big bouquet in the library, their showy blooms mixing well with flowers from the meadow and garden such as the tiny-flowered black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia triloba, and sprays of goldenrod, or, as now, the berries of autumn. Right now, I have a pitcher of ‘Limelight” mixed with branches of Viburnum dilatatum ‘Erie’ behind the library sofa. This viburnum is at its showiest right now with masses of tiny deep red berries littering the 8′ shrubs. The leaves are deep green and leathery, touched with bronze by the end of this month. Even after the leaves have dropped the fruit will linger, finally eaten by visiting birds.