Merry berry

WINTER WARMER: The vivid orange berries of Pyracantha.
WINTER WARMER: The vivid orange berries of Pyracantha.
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There’s orange, and there is orange. But in the case of berries, there are few to challenge the firethorn for an autumnal burst of colour that is definitely orange. And the firethorn (Pyracantha) is not only bright and beautiful but it’s also useful as an excellent source of food and shelter for wildlife.

The magnificent fiery orange and ruby red berries are set on a backdrop of dark, evergreen, glossy foliage that can brighten up the gloomiest November day or sparkle in the winter sunshine.

There are other plants renowned for their orange fruits, particularly some forms of mountain ash, Arum italican (also known as cuckoo pint) and the very sticky-fruited sea buckthorn, but Firethorn is a firm favourite among British gardeners because of its adaptability, its consistency and its deterrence qualities.

If you have ever been pricked by one of its thorns you’d know why. They are vicious, but for some, it adds to the plant’s versatility.

Because of its thorny nature it is recommended as a living barrier for those unwanted animal (or human) visitors to your garden. Plant them close together and within a couple of years they will be almost completely impenetrable.

But Pyracantha isn’t just a plant for autumn and winter, the evergreen leaves provide year-round interest and there is the added bonus of small white flowers in summer.

It can be grown as a hedge, groundcover or against walls and fences; it looks equally good as a freestanding shrub. Firethorn is easy to grow in sun or partial shade and in any reasonable soil.

Pyracantha “Navajo” and Pyracantha “Orange Charmer” are excellent choices. “Orange Charmer” is an evergreen, bushy, arching shrub with white flowers from April and large spherical orange fruits in autumn.

“Navajo” sports vibrant orange red berries nestled against shiny green leaves and can be resistant to fireblight.

And if orange isn’t quite right for your garden colour scheme, there’s an equally vibrant red variety; Pyracantha “Red Column” will form a dense, prickly shrub, particularly in its upright form.

During the summer, plants produce sprays of bright white flowers, followed by eye-catching displays of sparkling red berries, providing food to the birds through the colder months.

Or Pyracantha “Soleil d’Or” produces white blooms throughout summer, followed by bright yellow berries.