GARDEN CLIPPINGS: Adding red pops of colour to festive decorations

The colours green and red have long been associated with Christmas.

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The colours green and red have long been associated with Christmas.

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Green, of evergreens, represents eternal life, while red is to remind us of the blood of Jesus.

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Do an internet search on the topic and you will learn the Christmas colour red was confirmed by Haddon Sunblom, an illustrator hired by Coca-Cola to create magazine ads showing a bright red jolly Santa.

At Christmastime, it’s easy to find green for decorating. A walk in the backyard may reveal spruce, pine, boxwood or cedar that can be cut for festive arrangements. Or look for lush green cedar boughs, mostly from B.C.

Those looking for red in the garden might have a tougher go.

On the east side of our garage, we have two healthy hollies (Ilex x meserveae Blue Princess) that give us many stems of dark green foliage dotted with bright red berries. Holly’s long-lasting foliage and berries will look fresh well into the new year.

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For some reason, holly is not yet a popular landscape plant. In warmer climates, Blue Princess holly will grow to become 1.8 to three metres (six to 10 feet) high, but in Sarnia-Lambton, it rarely tops 1.3 m (4 ft.). Holly will tolerate almost any soil, but prefers well-drained, acidic soil. My thriving hollies are planted in sandy soil with a layer of mulch over their roots.

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Blue Princess holly is a female plant requiring a male pollinator to produce berries. Its partner, aptly named Blue Prince, grows slightly faster and lacks berries. Holly produces abundant, attractive white flowers in spring, followed by green berries that turn vibrant red as the season progresses.

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Winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata) is a native shrub producing bright red berries that might be eaten by birds before you get a chance to cut stems for holiday decorating. Several new varieties of deciduous holly have been introduced lately, boasting compact size and improved colouring. All hollies are dioecious, meaning female and male are on separate plants. If red berries are the objective, it will be helpful to know that one or two males can take care of several females.

Highbush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum) is a native snowball bush producing flat white flowers in June, followed by small, edible red berries resembling cranberries. Berries appear in late summer and are especially attractive for bees and wasps. Drive down Highway 402 between Sarnia and London and you will see many highbush cranberries in the centre median.

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Mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia) is a small ornamental tree that has fallen out of favour in recent years. Flowers appear in late spring, followed by heavy clusters of showy red berries in late summer through fall. By Christmas, most berries will have deteriorated.

Holiday decorators determined to add red to festive arrangements may want to use stems of red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea) for a pop of colour. Dogwood is often easy to find in the wild or can be bought in bunches from garden retailers.

The easiest way to find stems with red berries? Buy the fake ones, imported from China, made of Styrofoam with red plastic coating.

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