Michael McCarthy: 'Tis the season for 'berry baskers'

Nature Notebook: Most splendid of the berry displays currently on view at Kew are the hollies of the half-mile long Holly Walk
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The Independent Online

In New England, such is the breathtaking beauty of the autumn foliage, people make special trips to gaze open-mouthed on the leaves turning russet and crimson, and they've even been given a name: "leaf-peepers". They have their own hotlines.

What would be the equivalent name, I idly wondered the other day, for people who appreciate autumn colours in something of a more minor key, and enjoy the diminutive spectacle of berries. Berry buskers? Berry baskers?

I'm not averse to a bit of basking in the beauty of berries, and right now, in fact, is a very good time to step out into the countryside and be a berry basker as, although this is not much of an autumn foliage year in England, it is a terrific berry year, as was obvious two months ago when English wine growers began harvesting earlier than ever. The weather – warm for the flowering season, wet in the summer, dry in September – has produced a berry crop of splendid proportions.

If you want to look on berry beauty in all sort of different forms you could short-cut the countryside and simply get yourself to Kew Gardens in south-west London, where you can currently see forests of hips and haws, and rowan berries, and crabapples, and even the bright orange baby tomatoes that are persimmons (or Sharon fruit), which you can find between King William's Temple and the Temperate House. But most splendid of the berry displays currently on view at Kew are the hollies, decorating each side of the half-mile long Holly Walk.

You know how when you buy a bunch of holly at Christmas from a wheezing bloke with fingerless gloves and a dripping nose, there are only three scarlet berries on it, whereas on the bunches on Christmas cards there are about 48?

Well, there are more scarlet berries (and yellow and orange and nearly black berries) along the Holly Walk right now, with its 600 trees, than a Christmas card designer could dream of, and if you want to feast your eyes on them you should get down there soon before the weather turns properly cold and the winter thrushes from Scandinavia, the redwings and fieldfares, gobble the lot.

The wonder of wildlife

The redwings are there but the fieldfares haven't arrived yet, Tony Kirkham, the man who manages Kew's grounds, told me yesterday. Then he said something that amazed me. He said: "We haven't had a woodcock yet either." Woodcock?

The mysterious magical gamebird, redolent of the deep forests, hanging around off the South Circular Road? "Sure," said Tony. "We get one every cold winter, in the grounds of Queen Charlotte's cottage." You think you know nature, and you keep on realising you don't.