Deck the Halls

Christmas conjures up many different images, but I guess that red berries would have to be high on most people’s lists.

Thankfully, there are quite a few shrubs and trees that grow well in the Algarve that have red berries at this time of year bringing some cheerful colour to your gardens.

I have a Cotoneaster frigidus in my garden, which is at its best in December.  It’s a large shrub or small tree which is currently smothered in bunches of bright red berries that last for months.  The birds love this shrub too as it provides plenty of food for them in winter.  You need lots of space for this beauty though as it has long arching branches that can spread up to five metres wide.

I also love Nandina domestica or “heavenly bamboo”, a slow-growing multi-stemmed shrub with pinnate leaves that spreads slowly by suckers.  In summer, it has panicles of small star-shaped flowers followed by green berries that turn red in winter.  My shrubs get very little water so have not spread much and are only about one metre tall, but if watered regularly, they can grow up to two metres tall.

Pyracantha coccinea or firethorn is another shrub that has magnificent red, orange or yellow berries in winter.  It is often grown against walls or fences but also makes an impenetrable hedge as it has long and very vicious thorns.  Bear in mind though that the flowers only appear on shoots produced the previous year, so to maximise berries, retain as much two-year-old wood as possible when pruning.

A common and easily grown tree out here is Schinus molle or pepper tree.  It’s very fast growing and ideal for providing shade and it also makes a great windbreak.  It grows up to fifteen metres tall but can be pruned to keep it in check.  It has attractive frond-like leaves and its seeds are carried in clusters of berries that turn from green to pink and are present for most of the year.

Nandina domestica

My last candidate for red berries is a native shrub, Pistacia lentiscus, or the mastic shrub.  It is straightforward to grow and ideal for drought-tolerant gardens.  It has leathery, evergreen leaves and the insignificant flowers form red berries, which are very striking in winter.  It takes hard pruning well, but if left to its own devices can form a substantial shrub or even a small tree.

When I discussed this article with the magazine editor, Sophie asked me if I could also write something about incorporating berries into a Christmas themed flower arrangement.  I was honest with her and admitted that flower arranging is really not my forte.  However, I do produce a very basic arrangement for our Christmas table and am very happy to share it with you.  I buy the oasis from a local Chinese shop and put it in a pot stand so it can be watered.  I source all the plant material from my garden and typically use leaves, berries and flowers from Dodonea viscosa (hop bush), the mastic bush, Viburnum tinus, Pittosporum tobira (mock orange), ivy and the heavenly bamboo.  I also incorporate some candles, a few Christmas baubles and ribbon around the pot stand and, hey presto, after fifteen minutes I have a flower arrangement for Christmas lunch.

Tamsin Varley is a member of Clube Dos Bons Jardins, a small, friendly multi-national garden club that meets at different location around the Algarve on the 2nd Tuesday every month except over the summer with an optional lunch afterwards.



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