This is a time of year when berried plants can add interest and colour to a garden. I have always been keen on Cotoneaster horizontalis. Its tiny dark green leaves give it a texture on which are dotted inconspicuous tiny pink or white, cup shaped flowers to be followed later in the autumn and winter by the multitudinous brightly coloured berries. Its horizontally layered branches make it a good shrub for covering ground while trained and pruned up against a wall it can look striking.
Pyracantha also produces copious winter berries from September to March. It makes good hedging material, but pruning to maintain shape cuts away many of the future berries.
Activity in the garden is limited at this time of year but there are still certain jobs that need doing. Apple trees should be checked for signs of canker, a fungal infection that causes the bark to split and flake off. Affected areas are best cut away.
Fruit trees in general need spraying with a winter wash to kill hibernating pests. So, stay ahead, and spray now with a copper based fungicide. And, it the right time to be planting fruit trees, but only if the immediate weather conditions allow. The soil should not be overly wet nor should the ground be frozen.
Reading botanical and gardening books is a good activity at this time of year too. I have collected a few interesting books over the years, and have discovered a couple of specialist dealers who offer books of all ages from 17th century to recently out of print (see box). A quick call will secure your place on their mailing lists.
For stocking fillers, try a leather holster for the secateurs. Felco makes two excellent styles that are functional and durable. Or if you are feeling generous you can always give the Felco secateurs to go in them as well.
For something more adventurous, try a two day willow growing course. The gardener in your family could get away from it all in Herefordshire on one of Jenny Crisp's courses. The course advertises itself as free of charge. But just as there are no free drug-lunches so this one is 'free' in return for your labour. Not for the faint hearted.
Specialist books: Mike Park, Surrey. Tel: (020) 8641 7796 firstname.lastname@example.org; M R Clark, Yorkshire. Tel: (01422) 357475
Secateurs: Felco, available from http://www.worldoffelco.co.uk, and good garden centres.
Gardening course: Jenny Crisp, Herefordshire. Tel: (01568) 615772. http://www.jennycrisp.co.uk