Dangerous Plantings

By Bonnie Grant | September 1, 2021
Image by Anton Ilchanka
by Bonnie Grant
September 1, 2021

I have a soft spot (pun intended) for prickly plants. One that has always graced my landscape is the barberry. Barberry plants are super hardy, very uncomplaining, and perfect defensive planting around windows. That doesn’t help if you have to paint your siding or wash the windows, as it becomes an ouchy project. However, they are magnificent ornamentals with surprising benefits. 

Defensive Planting

My mate complains often about the things I plant. Either they need too much care, or they get out of hand, or, in the case of barberry plants, they are painful to work around. I don’t care. I have had barberry in my garden for decades. My favorite is Rose Glow, a variegated variety that has creamy mottling on pink leaves. Even the stems are pretty in bright pink. When the leaves fall, the plant stands out against the snow with its colorful arching stems. 

My barberry is right under the bedroom windows. It may seem overkill, but it makes me feel better. If an unwary prowler tried to break in, they would have a painful surprise trying to get past the plants. Defensive planting saves money on alarm systems. They are easy to grow, needing just regular water and well draining soil. You can even prune them quite brutally and they don’t seem to care. All in all, a perfect plant. 

I have also grown the standard varieties and Sunjoy Sequins, a white, pink and soft green foliaged variety. There are large barberry and smaller mounding cultivars. In the group, there is bound to be one that suits any gardener if they don’t mind the prickles. Hardy to United States Department of Agriculture zones 4-8 in most cases, give them a good mulching and they will thrive throughout winter’s chill. 

The Benefits of Barberries

Incidentally, there are numerous barberry benefits. The small red-pink berries are edible, although sour. They are often dried in Middle Eastern cuisine and called zereshik. The best way to enjoy them is in jams and jellies. You won’t need pectin as the berries are very high in pectin content. In Europe the berries were often made into jam, called pipperages. Additional barberry benefits include their trace mineral and very high Vitamin C content. The berberine they contain is known to be an antioxidant and help reduce blood sugar and high cholesterol. It is also an anti-inflammatory. A study found it also had the potential to help treat diabetes. 

On a side note: These are also shrubs. The definition of shrub is “a woody plant with several perennial stems that may be erect or close to the ground.” So my barberry “bushes” are also shrubs, but for some reason no one calls them shrubs.  

You don’t need to eat the berries to enjoy the plant. I don’t as I am too lazy to make jam and they are too tart fresh. Barberries offer several seasons of interest and are so stoic I just have to have them in my garden. 

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