A visit to Westonbirt Arboretum in mid-October should mean autumn richness of red, orange and yellow. But when we went this year we were too early. The spindles, birches and chestnuts disappointed. Some acers were showing colour and would have made the visit worthwhile anyway but the real treats of the day were totally unexpected – a berberis and a sorbus.
We spotted the lovely arching stems laden with red berries a long way from the main path. The sky was grey the day wet and dark but this berberis shone through it all. We made our way across wet grass to get a closer look and we met two other visitors doing the same. It was causing identification problems for everyone! The name Berberis julianae sprang to mind but I was unsure. Another visitor came over and asked if we knew what it was. She believed it to be Berberis julianae also. A Westonbirt gardener suggested Berberis concinna. But being unsure I checked in the RHS A-Z Encyclopaedia of Garden Plants as soon as we got home – we were all wrong. It was neither julianae or concinna. The mystery continued but an article in “The English Garden” showed a photo of a berberis with similar but less dense groups of pendulous berries – Berberis chitria – but I was still not convinced. As everyone was so taken aback by the large number of berries in each bunch perhaps it was just an exceptionally prolific year for it.
The RHS published an article on berberis in the November edition of their magazine “The Garden” and it presented another possibility – Berberis “Georgei”. It looks the best match so far!
The berries of this sorbus were marble-sized and deep mahogany-red in colour overlaid with white. They felt as hard as conkers. This plant gave its identity up easily – it had a label telling us it was Sorbus megalocarpa from China.
The expected autumn views of Westonbirt must not be forgotten though as some acers were dressed in their fire coloured clothes.