One afternoon a few years ago, while I was shopping at a favorite local nursery, this wonderful native shrub caught my attention. I was drawn to about 100 potted chokeberry plants grouped together. The foliage was just beginning to turn brilliant red and deep red purple for the fall, and clusters of red and black berries still held on.
I knew chokeberry to be a native plant, but wondered why I hadn’t seen it used in more landscape designs, and if the berries were edible or not. My friend who was working at the nursery told me chokeberry is used a lot in native restoration projects, and he thought the berries were edible but perhaps not palatable. I bought a few plants, did a little research to confirm the berries are indeed edible - in fact, they are considered a “superfood” with more antioxidants than blueberries - and brought them home for a taste test.
The chokeberries were received with varied levels of enthusiasm by my family. I found the taste to be somewhat unique. My wife and daughter did not care for them at all, but fortunately the birds didn’t appear to either. (I don’t mind sharing my bounty with nature, but the birds seemed to be getting their fill of my blueberries anyway.) The funny part was that my six year old son loved the berries! He began to devour the black ones (Aronia melanocarpa,) which are supposedly the less tasty variety, and in a few days when they were all gone he moved onto the reds (Aronia arbutifolia.)
The following year I purchased more of each variety, and my son continued to devour the berries, even more enthusiastically than the birds plucked my blueberries. I have developed a taste for them myself, and mix the chokeberries in with blueberries and serviceberries for the pickier eaters.
After a couple of years getting to know this beautiful shrub personally, I started to incorporate it into a lot of my designs. I am finding it is a perfect addition to the family of native plants I have developed a relationship with over the years, and a fantastic reminder to always keep my mind - and palate - open to “new” plant varieties.
Grignaffini Earthscape is now available for installations in western Massachusetts and the surrounding area, including southern Vermont. If you are considering making some changes to your landscape, this is the time to call. We are booked for early spring and are currently scheduling for late spring/early summer. Contact us for more information, and please spread the word!
If you haven't done it yet, it's time to clean up the yard before winter sets in here in New England. While it is good to get the leaves off the lawn, we often go a little overboard with cleaning up at this time of year. Instead of cutting back your perennials, consider leaving them standing so birds can continue to eat the seed pods into the winter. Leaving plants like black-eyed susans and ornamental grasses can help break the monotony of the winter landscape and add winter interest. As for the leaves, instead of ridding your garden beds entirely of them, rake them out, shred them with your mower, and add them back in to your beds! The tall perennial stalks that you've left standing will help keep the leaves corralled in the garden. If you follow these tips, the soil, your plants, and the wildlife that visits your yard will be happier and healthier through the winter and into the spring!