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.