My winter projects including choosing new bushes for my mother.
Exploring the suburban ecology for The Monday Garden I’ve become
We are obligated to provide food for the wild critters since we’re
living in what used to be their habitat.
What the birds and squirrels eat, they spread into our remaining wild
Easily-spread foreign plants are diversity-destroying invaders of the
The inescapable conclusion for me: plant things the wild critters
like that are native to the area. Hardy natives also require less
artificial life support, which means fewer chemicals in our streams, less draw
on the water supply, and more free time for the gardener. So, what’s not
My mother’s got a substantial, squirrel-tended oak, and plenty of
seeds and greens (the rabbits are partial to violet leaves), so berries for the
birds would add balance. The ideal bush would a native that provides bird
food and shelter, looks good all year, survives heat, cold, droughts and floods,
self-prunes, stays under 6’, and is pest -free. Cheap’s also good.
(Don’t want much, right?)
Looking around, the quick answers were blueberries (heath family)
and viburnums (honeysuckle family). But why take the easy way when there
was the whole winter and plenty of web sites?
So I investigated native elderberries, pawpaws, shadblow,
chokecherries, sand cherries, hollies, and beach plums, and found them all too
tall and/or too specialized as to growing conditions. Native caneberries
(blackberries, raspberries, etc.) were too invasive; bayberries too boring.
Mulberries, barberries, currents, and gooseberries turned out to be dangerous
aliens. Serviceberries (an apple relative) looked interesting but are
native to Canada, not Connecticut [where I live].
So, back to blueberries and viburnums. Today’s viburnum
hybrids are a bit snappier than grandma ‘s summer-blooming “snow-ball”
bush. As one catalog said:
The show begins in spring, with masses of pure white blooms
borne in 5-inch clusters….followed by berries of brightest blue, nestled
among dark, shiny green foliage. In fall, the leaves glow scarlet and
gold. And when they pass, the remaining berries dot the bleak winter
landscape with cheery azure. Expect plenty of songbirds to visit the garden
in fall and winter!
Increase diversity and summer bird food by adding blueberries, too.
Plant at least two to cross-fertilize and add peat for acidity. “High
bush” are the commercial hybrids; “low bush” are hybrids of the wild,
understory bush. They have about the same care requirements. Also
interesting is Aronia (chokeberry) (not related to the chokecherry), a
North American native, which has been hybridized in Scandinavia and Russia.