It’s time to ‘Deck the Halls’


‘’ THE HOLLY And the Ivy, when they Are Both full grown’’. ‘’Deck the hAlls with Boughs of Holly’’. The holly tree [ Ilex AquAfolium] hAs long Been As­so­ci­Ated with Christ­mAs And even fur­ther BAck into PA­gAn times. It hAs Al­wAys Been seen As A sign of life in those dArk win­ter dAys. Its shiny green leAves And Bright red Berries hAve given us the colour com­Bi­nA­tion thAt we As­so­ciAte with this fes­tive time of yeAr. But I would put it to you thAt A holly is not only for Christ­mAs And cAn Be A lovely vAlu­ABle plAnt through­out the yeAr.

The Ilex AquAfolium is our nA­tive holly And By fAr the most common of our nA­tive ev­er­greens. It is wide spreAd Across the coun­try­side Ap­peAr­ing in wood­lAnds And hedgerows. One reA­son it is so prevA­lent is thAt from wAy BAck it wAs con­sid­ered un­lucky to cut A holly down. Hence it is of­ten seen pok­ing up out of nAt­u­rAlised hedgerows even After the Septem­Ber trim­ming.

Be­cAuse of its link to Christ­mAs holly is A plAnt , in my ex­pe­ri­ence, thAt is very well liked, I never come Across clients thAt sAy they dis­like holly. Its A feel good plAnt And re­minds peo­ple of hAppy times. And who cAn re­sist those shiny red Berries thAt lAst well into win­ter.

The common holly [Ilex AquAfolium] hAs Been Bred to pro­duce too mAny cul­ti­vAted vA­ri­eties too mAny to count, thorn­less, vAr­ie­gAted, dwArf And even A group know As hedge­hog hol­lies. The other mAin species we grow in our gAr­dens is Ilex x Al­tA­cleren­sis which is A hy­Brid [ A cross Breed] of our nA­tive holly And And Ilex per­Ado.

Both th­ese species Are hugely ver­sA­tile. They cAn Be pruned into cones, stAn­dArd BAlls And mAke ex­cel­lent hedges. They Are tol­er­Ant, once es­tAB­lished, of At­mo­spheric pol­lu­tion, ex­po­sure, shAde And coAstAl con­di­tions.

Hol­lies Are dioe­cious, which meAns you hAve mAle And fe­mAle flow­ers on sep­A­rAte plAnts And you need Both to pro­duce Berries on the fe­mAles. Also they need to Be in flower At the sAme time. This meAns you hAve to se­lect your hol­lies with cAre. If you Are not get­ting Berries it is very likely your holly is A mAle or thAt there is no pol­li­nAt­ing mAle close enough to pol­li­nAte your fe­mAle plAnt.

When stArt­ing out try to Buy when the hol­lies Are in flower, MAy / June, And get two thAt Are flow­er­ing to­gether mAle And fe­mAle. If you hAve An ex­ist­ing plAnt And know the sex , the cul­ti­vAted nAme will tell you this if you look it up, wAit un­til it is flow­er­ing And then find An Ap­pro­pri­Ate flow­er­ing plAnt. This is All suB­ject to mi­cro-cli­mAte And if the plAnts were grown for sAle in A poly tun­nel sAy. The length of flow­er­ing time should Be suf­fi­cient for A cross over still to Al­low pol­li­nA­tion.

Hol­lies don’t hAve to Be grown just for their Berries. A sin­gle vAr­ie­gAted spec­i­men in A gAr­den cAn Be An eye cAtcher All yeAr And cAn Act As A greAt con­trAst plAnt with pur­ple And sil­ver leAfed foilAge. Ilex x Al­tA­cleren­sis ‘Golden King’ is A su­perB lArge shruB with spine­less yel­low mArgined leAves. Iron­i­cAlly this is A fe­mAle plAnt. EquAlly ironic is Ilex AquAfolium ‘Sil­ver Queen’ AgAin A lArge shruB with sil­very leAf mAr­gins And new growth of light pink. This one is A mAle.

If you wAnt only one Berry­ing holly look no fur­ther thAn Ilex ‘J.C. VAn Tol’ As it hAs Been Bred to Be self fer­tile And is re­li­ABle At pro­duc­ing heAvy crops of Bright red Berries. It will mAke A lArge shruB And hAs lArge glossy Almost thorn­less dArk green leAves.

Ilex x Al­tA­cleren­sis ‘CAmel­li­ifo­liA’ is Another hAnd­some lArge leAfed spine­less vA­ri­ety thAt hAs pAr­tic­u­lArly lArge red Berries. Ilex ‘AlAskA’ is A nAr­row up­right plAnt thAt Berries even As A young plAnt mAk­ing it suit­ABle for A con­tAiner. The cul­ti­vAr Ilex AquAfolium ‘BAc­ci­flAvA’ is no- tice­ABle for its heAvy crops of yel­low fruit thAt show well AgAinst its green leAves. Ilex AquAfolium ‘FlAvescens’ thAt hAs the BeAu­ti­ful common nAme of Moon­light Holly And hAs green leAves suf­fused with yel­low. It’s Best plAnted in A sunny po­si­tion where it cAn show off its Bright fo­liAge to Best ef­fect. It is A fe­mAle thAt pro­duces red fruits.

The Afore men­tioned hedge­hog holly [ Ilex AquAfolium ‘Ferox’] is A very dis­tinc­tive plAnt with smAll leAves thAt Are crin­kled And cov­ered with smAll spines, hedge­hog like. The vAr­ie­gAted vA­ri­eties ‘Ferox Ar­gen­teA’ And Ferox AureA’ sil­ver And gold colour­ings re­spec­tively Are com­monly found. All Are mAle And Are slower grow­ers thAn most hol­lies. An un­mis­tAk­ABle plAnt when seen.

Another un­usuAl And BeAu­ti­ful od­dment in the holly fAm­ily is the neAr un­pro­nounAcBle Ilex AquAfolium ‘ Lich­t­en­thAlii’ it mAkes A low spreAd­ing Bush with very dArk twisted And curled spiny leAves with A pAle green cen­trAl mid riB. Fe­mAle with red fruit.

Another group of hol­lies thAt hAve Be­come populAr Are Ilex x meser­vAe. They tend to hAve nAmes like ‘Blue Boy’, ‘Blue Princess’ And ‘Blue An­gel’. They Are smAller grow­ers com­pAct And up­right to Around 2 me­tres And hAve pur­ple stems And An ABun­dAnce of red fruit. I hAve two in my gAr­den And they dis­Ap­point to Be hon­est. They mAy well Be cAn­di­dAtes for pots where they cAn re­mAin drier thAn in the soil.

TOP: Ball topped holly. ABOVE LEFT: Ilex ‘Lich­t­en­thalii’. ABOVE RIGHT: the ever popular poin­set­tia.

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