It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas – there are masses of berries on the holly, so it may be going to be a bad winter. Or are we seeing the result of a bountiful summer?
Whatever the case, holly conjures up all that’s traditional and festive. Not only is it decorative but it’s also extremely versatile all year round.
Holly is an evergreen tree and can reach a height of more than 30ft. It has smooth bark and the dark green leaves can be shiny, leathery or waxy.
Some varieties have extremely spiny and prickly leaves, others are less hard to handle, but they provide an excellent source of shelter and an extremely important food supply for numerous species of birds and insects.
The plants are either male or female with only the female plant producing the red berries which are a traditional feature of winter landscapes.
Holly comes in hundreds of varieties, including Ilex aquifolium ‘Argenteo marginata’, which has broadly oval, spiny dark green leaves streaked with wide cream margins which can be pink coloured when the leaves are young.
This beautiful female variety bears an abundance of bright red berries and is great for hedging or as a specimen plant. Meanwhile, Ilex ‘Atlas’ is an upright male shrub that has spiny, glossy dark green leaves and is an excellent choice for landscaping or hedging.
But it’s difficult to talk about holly without ivy getting a mention. Some consider it as a dark and oppressive plant; others see it as a beautiful addition to the garden.
Ivy’s bad reputation was probably gained because it grows by clinging to trees and bushes, seemingly choking them to death.
However, it is actually an incredibly valuable plant for wildlife – it provides shelter at all times and the winter flowers and berries are a reliable food source when other supplies have almost disappeared.
You can get ivies with leaves as big as dinner plates or as small as your thumb nail, so there is usually at least one variety ideal for any garden. Some forms clamber extensively while others never get off the ground and are thus ideal as weed-suppressors.
But while holly often gets invited indoors to help with the Christmas spirit, ivy normally has to stay outside, because it’s considered unlucky to let it over the threshold.