Every year I look forward to seeing the bright Christmas-red berries on the winterberry hollies. They don't show up against the brown of late fall. They need a snowfall for background, and then they just sparkle against the white.
The deer or the birds strip the berries by the end of December, so it has to be an early snowfall, timed just right for the holidays, to enjoy the red berries at their best.
Winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata) doesn't have much to recommend it otherwise. It's a medium green, nondescript rangy shrub with small leaves and insignificant flowers during the season. It doesn't look like anything, but it's a good filler in the border.
It's the berries that make it worth growing, even if they only show up against snow, and even if they only last a week or two before being eaten up.
I have three winterberry shrubs in this back garden, but curiously, only one has berries this year. Every other year they all put out fruits at the same time, and then were all stripped at the same time.
The two twiggy stick-like shrubs above are right next to the third one that has red berries. These two never fruited at all this fall -- not a single berry appeared.
Could it have been the severely dry summer? I lost several plants in this specific area of the garden, including a mature hemlock and a bunch of epimediums that should have tolerated dry conditions better. Did these two hollies succumb, while the third one got enough moisture being down a slight slope from the other two?
Here's the lone red-berried holly from the other side, looking back at the house.
It's an odd occurrence. The other two hollies were leafy all summer, although stressed looking from the drought. Did they simply not set fruit to conserve scarce resources -- and if so, will they leaf out and thrive again next season?
Or did they die?