Bright red berries for the winter garden


I bought this Gaultheria procumbens on inpulse while grocery shopping on the weekend. Well, impulse born from the desire to lure the songbirds to my balcony. Richard (Dick) Cannings, biologist, birder and author, thinks this plant might attract them. This past Monday he was Mark Forsythe's guest on B.C. Almanac so I summoned up my courage and phoned in to CBC radio to ask about berries for birds. (His full answer is in a podcast that I'll transcribe and publish later as a follow-up to this post.)


Though several garden writers recommend using Gaultheria procumbens as a "filler" in winter containers, I think my berry-full, lush plant is lovely on its own. I agree with this U.K. garden shop ad:

With a dwarf, rounded habit, Gaultheria procumbens ... makes the perfect container specimen. The lovely white flowers in summer turn to masses of bright red berries and the evergreen foliage takes on red hues - ideal for festive displays on the patio.

I succumbed to G. procumben's charm (and sale price) again last night and bought a second plant; I may try a mixed planting in a large pot with black mondo grass, and white Helleborus or hardy cyclamen.

Recently I listed eleven favourite balcony garden plants from 2010: one for each month January through November. To the list I'll now add my December pick: Gaultheria procumbens. If you garden in zones 3-8 and have the right conditions for it to thrive (full to partial shade; acidic, well-drained soil, rich in organic matter) you may want to try growing this lovely-in-all-seasons, edible plant, too.

Recommended reading:


Gaultheria procumbens, Wintergreen (Flora, Fauna, Earth and Sky |

- a concise, thorough overview

Wintergreen: The Little Tea of the Woods & Winter Portrait (Paghat's Garden)

- rambling descriptions, accurate information & delightful anecdotes on Paghat the Ratgirl's wonderfully eccentric site

Planting colourful winter containers (BBC Gardening Guides)

- scroll down the page to find Gaultheria procumbens featured in "perfect for a cool corner" and "perfect for a warm welcome"


And some resources about berries & birds:


Which berries do birds prefer? (from BirdForum)

Inviting birds to your garden (Landscape Ontario)

Top 10 Berries for Birds (Birds & Blooms)

Birds and berries (The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, UK)