Today started out just like any other January day.
For the past week, I had been admiring one of my favorite shrubs growing in my side yard – the humble pyracantha.
I had been wondering to myself why more people didn’t love this shrub as I do.
Don’t they realize all the seasonal beauty it freely offers the gardener?
First, in early spring, I’m rewarded with a spectacular show of slender branches cloaked in cascades of dainty white flowers.
Yes, I’ll admit they smell ever so faintly like old socks.
But their month-long performance certainly makes up for this one little shortcoming, doesn’t it?
In the summer, I’m most appreciative of its lightening-fast growth.
It’s ideal for training into an espalier, growing snug against my fence, providing year-round screening from my neighbor’s unattractive roofline.
But in the fall and winter, the pièce de résistance is its berries.
Oh, the berries!
Pendulous clusters of plump, shiny red berries dangle through the trellis like grapes waiting to be harvested.
I can’t get enough of these berries.
Especially in the fall, when the berries mingle with the golden hues of my Virginia creeper vine.
The color combination is nothing short of delightful.
I was lost in thought, admiring these berries, when everything took a horrible turn for the worse.
As I was pruning my roses from the other side of my garden, I heard the familiar cry from a lone Robin.
My blood turned cold. And that’s when pure mayhem broke loose.
First, it was a flock of clumsy robins who mysteriously appeared overhead like a plague of Old Testament grasshoppers.
I watched in horror as they gorged themselves with three, sometimes four berries at a time.
Then, their rival gang arrived unannounced: the sleek and stealthy Cedar Waxwings, masks firmly secured.
Amid the shocked robins, the waxwings darted in and out at a blinding speed, barely giving their defeated foes a chance to gulp down the last of their berries.
Oh, it didn’t stop there.
After devouring the very last berry, the masked gang overtook a poor family of tiny birds half their size, who were just trying to take a peaceful bath.
One after another, the Waxwings descended.
Was there no end to this madness?
It was nothing short of pure chaos – like a Greek orgy.
Or, a frat party gone bad.
Broken branches everywhere, signs of destruction and defecation carelessly strewn about.
Thank heavens some quick thinking soul called the authorities, for as soon as Officer Buddy showed up, the thugs fled to the far corners of the earth.
Peace and tranquility was restored once again to my garden, leaving me to pick up the pieces.
What a story. I think even the chaos of the birds would have been beautiful in its own way.
You’re so right, Kat. The chaos was gorgeous all the way around.
Great story! Reminds me of all the drama with the berries on my parents rosa multi flora bushes in Illinois. Some small birds would come and the cardinals would shoo them away only to be evicted by combative blue jays.
Can you believe I’ve only seen a cardinal once in my life, Diane? I’d give anything to have them swarm my pyracantha!
Brava!! Wonderful story, beautiful photos, lots of smiles!! Thanks for a warm & winning mid-winter pick-me-up for those of us iced into winter. 🙂
Thanks so much, Michele. Glad I could give you a little garden happiness!
It’s wonderful that you were able to capture the orgy. Cedar waxwings are the most handsome birds. I’m hoping my possumhaw holly attracts a flock soon, even if it means sacrificing the berries.
I couldn’t agree more, Pam. It’s like they’re the fashionistas of the bird world – totally put together! Hope they visit your garden soon, though perhaps with a little less destruction than they caused in mine. 😉
Oh Rebecca, I love this post! I have a beautiful Pyracantha on an arbor in my front yard garden. It has such beautiful berries and looks so wonderful against a brick wall but alas the Robins and better yet the Cedar Waxwings have not found it yet. I have had it for two years now and would love to see the fruit disappear to the hungry mouths of birds! Oh well maybe when spring comes or maybe I will have to wait for next years crop!
I wonder why the birds haven’t found your berries yet, Susy? I also have a few bird feeders in my garden, as well as 2 bird baths, which might help attract them there in the first place. Then, once one finds out they ALL find out!
Oh my gosh, I was laughing out loud! Loved every word and could hear the raucous! Sounds like West Side Story all over again! Go Jets!
Perfect description, Candy! The Waxwings were clearly the Jets…
Hilarious! You captured the craziness of nature perfectly!
Thanks, Joni! 🙂
Does the drama occur every year? It sounds as though all you need to add are lyrics from Gilbert and Sullivan!
Every single year, Kris. Though this year I just happened to walk by when it was beginning – you should’ve seen me run to get my camera! The whole event lasted merely minutes. I was so lucky to have been there at just the right moment!
Pyracantha is one of my favorites, but with our winter cold the berries are neither so prolific or lasting, but robins love them, here, too! Their growth can make them a handful during pruning time, but yours are so gorgeous- they almost look like climbing roses.
I agree, Ilona – their thorns are indeed a handful! But each year I wear the thickest gloves I can find (and safety glasses) and prune away. I love how its growing like a climbing rose, too. In fact, on the other side of the arbor theres a huge climbing Cecil Brunner rose to match its growth habit.
Great article and pictures! We planted a pyracantha about 12 years ago and it was beautiful for years. 2 years ago, it started dying and now is completely dead. Do they have a short lifespan? What would you think happened to it? I am going to dig it up and there is a small one that has come up nearby that I want to plant in the same place. Do you think that will be alright? Would appreciate your help. Thanks!
Martha – believe it or not, my pyracantha started out the same as your little one. About 10 years ago there was a huge, lovely one in its place but they often succumb to fire blight. It’s a fairly quick death, too, with the poor plant all of a sudden looking like it was scorched. Actually, I had two in my garden and the other one died shortly after (must be pretty contagious). Anyway, I had cut it to the ground, feeling so sad about its death when I noticed a little one shoot at the base of it. After just a few years its grown to its current size, requiring nothing more than an annual pruning. If yours has died from fire blight then I think your little shoot will be just fine. Fingers crossed!
I have a pyracantha that is at least 30 years old. It was established when we bought the house.
Delightful! I have experienced robins coming in hordes for privet berries. They seem to leave my pyracantha alone here in Mendo Co. It is utterly fascinating to watch the interactions of various kinds of birds, though. Well done!
So glad you enjoyed it, Kathryn! Yes, those privets are a magnet aren’t they?
I read and reread!!! What a Awesome post!
Thanks so much, Kathy. 🙂
That was darling!
Glad you enjoyed it, Dee. Yes, I was in a silly mood yesterday!
My mother loved pyracantha berries for her Christmas decorations. In January they often fermented and we laughed to see the drunken Cedar Waxwings crashing about. Now I have cotoneaster and have developed a healthy dislike for the upright ones that like this coastal area; the birds don’t like them and they plant themselves all over my garden!
I’m sorry about the cotoneaster, Claudia. I didn’t realize birds don’t like the berries! That’s like our dreaded privet trees here – though the birds definitely like the berries which is why they’ve reseeded in every single garden and open space around.
Rebecca, this is delightful! Your descriptions are perfection…eloquent, poetic and engaging. It becomes a story when conflict enters, and then you have resolution with Buddy. It reminds me of an old-fashioned melodrama in the best possible way. Highly entertaining, fantastic photos, too. Standing ovation, my friend! If there’s a competition for blog posts, definitely enter it. Oh, and btw, I have a pyracantha I like but have never respected. Until now. It does arch beautifully over the steps leading into the garden.
Thank you, Debra. This is the highest praise coming from you and I so appreciate it! Now, if only I can get you to respect that poor, sweet little orange tree you have back there trying with all its might to win you over… 😉
Those thorns are very effective at repelling humans, if nothing else, but this delightful post gave me the motivation to take up the pruners and tame the berry laden beast in my own yard. I won’t get rid of it because the birds love it, but it terrifies me.
Good luck, Vicki. Those thorns are lethal! But once tamed, it’s a lovely beast that’ll reward you for years to come!
I loved this Rebecca! The pictures themselves tell a great story, and your style and wit make it complete. You should turn this into a children’s book!
Thank you, Joanna. You’re so sweet! You might be on to something since my daughter actually enjoyed it (and she’s a picky 18 year old).
What a great story you wrote, couldn’t wait to keep scrolling down to see the pictures and read the rest. I live in Danville and don’t know that I’ve seen the waxwings here. I guess because I don’t have a pyracantha in my yard. You are too funny! Susan Morrison is a fellow MG and my go to landscape designer.
Hi Diane – I had no idea you were Susan’s friend. Isn’t she fantastic?? I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, and I bet waxwings would visit as long as you feed them. Every year they swoop in for just a few days and then they’re off again. They’re such a delight to watch – such sleek little birds.
Loved this post, I know exactly how you feel. The same birds are at my house also, throwing newly laid mulch everyway in my garden, and the gray squirrels think it is mating season already, on the house roofs, tearing branches off the Japanese Maples…….talk about mayhem!!
Great to read your newsletter!
Oh yes, Sabrina, I forgot about the mulch. I have the brown towhees that love to scratch and kick it to kingdom come. They’re going to have a field day this weekend as I have 2 yards of it sitting in my driveway just waiting for me to spread it around.
I’m still laughing Rebecca… you made my day! I can easily visualize the chaos since a flock of robins and every other bird in our neighborhood discovered our Canadian cherries last summer… they were so drunk 3 slammed into our house within 2 days! At least they died on a good high?
I didn’t know they could get drunk off of Canadian cherries, Sheila. Poor babies! But you’re right, I guess. If it’s your time, might as well be feeling fine first, right?
That was too funny! I love those red berries, but I have seen them in toyon as well, so I would love to add them to my garden for the birds and to cheer me up when nothing is in bloom. Birds in the winter are so hungry, they eat anything green, including my stinging nettles!
Hi Laura – you’re right, toyon would be another good (and native) substitute. My nandina plants are also covered with red berries right now and I’ve yet to see a bird try and eat those!
That’s odd. My mom in KY complains about the birds stripping her nandina of berries before they even start turning color. She never has any berries left by December.
I wonder what type of birds are stripping your mom’s nandina berries, Deborah? I’ve never seen that out here in California. knock on wood…
What a kick of a post! I adore pyracantha and have three ‘Mohave’ working to create privacy along a fence. Would that they brought cedar waxwings to the garden though. We do have the noisy robins, in droves!
Hi Jane – I just planted 6 of them to hide a client’s fence and they’re already growing really fast. I hope yours do, as well. And bring on the Waxwings! Though I must admit, they left an enormous mess all over my car (if you know what I mean). But seeing them in my garden today was so worth it.
You still tell awesome garden stories! I need one of those at my new house to hide an ugly fence.
Thanks, Matt, so glad it made you chuckle. 😉
I’ve seen the same thing happen in NY State with mountain ash berries that had frozen and thawed … and apparently fermented along the way. A flock of cedar waxwings ended up so drunk they could hardly fly–we laughed so hard.
i thought it was Cotoneaster berries that made them drunk OR have i been doing it wrong all these years ?!?!?
Jeff, I don’t know about cotoneaster berries but I know pyracantha berries definitely have a kick to them. Not that I’ve tried them, personally, but by judging by the flight pattern of the robins after a big feast, it becomes pretty apparent. I’ve seen one fly right into the side of the wall of my home once! Hey – we’ve all been there, I guess, right?
This is a SPECTACULAR post – I felt the drama. I was on the edge of my seat. Those waxwings, with their burglar masks; the perfect antagonist! The beautiful pyracantha, which I love – but which all of my clients seem to hate because I have removed about 6 in the past 2 years – it is an absolute glory weaving its sinewy way through your arbor.
And the images… I swoon. You are magic with a camera. My GOD woman!
Ivette – your enthusiasm always makes me laugh. God how I miss you!!! WHEN will I see you next? I always call the poor pyracantha the plant people love to hate. Just because it has lethal weapon grade thorns and its flowers smell like socks doesn’t mean it should be ripped out, right? No one’s perfect after all…
This is awesome. ..period!!
I need one of these in my yard.
Lisa, I think you should grow one along the fence where that tree fell down. It’d get plenty of sun, too!
Isn’t Pyracantha the shrub whose berries make birds intoxicated? Sounds like they were having a drunken orgy. Officer Buddy is such a cutie.
Yep, that’s the one Alison! A drunken orgy indeed. And before noon, no less!