Happy Holly-Days!Leave a Comment
Fancy growing some holly to make your own Christmas decorations? Here’s some of the best varieties but first… a little bit of holly history…
Holly has been a symbol of Christmas from the very start but its link to winter celebrations goes even further back deep into the times of superstition, magic and folklore.
The Druids believed that at summer’s end the Holly King fought and won a battle with the Oak King for rulership of the year and therefore reigned over the dark season. At the end of Winter another battle was fought and this time won by the Oak King who then would rule over the summer months.
Since then, Holly has been synonymous with winter celebrations. Its bright evergreen leaves bursting with vitality and lushness at a time when everything else is fading became a sign of hope amidst a season that bought uncertainty and fear to all but the richest.
Long before the fashion for Christmas trees came over from Germany in Queen Victoria’s reign, a big ball of holly would be hung in people’s houses decorated with ribbons and fruit with figures of the nativity tucked inside it along with Mistletoe earning it its name of the ‘Kissing Ball’. Boughs of holly would also be brought in to decorate fireplaces and doorways. But they had to be careful what sort of holly was brought in – sterile holly with no berries was thought to bring bad luck and infertility so in years when berries were scarce, Ivy or box were added to counteract any negativity. Holly was often paired with Ivy anyway as the Ivy with its black berries symbolised night and darkness – A balance to the Holly’s hopeful red berries.
Holly was also said to protect against witchcraft. Scottish prisoners brought to Norfolk to drain the Fens stuck holly sprigs around the huts where they slept to keep witches away. But local people believed in the holly’s protective powers too – often using a stout holly stick whilst walking across the Fens on dark nights and making their front steps to their cottages out of holly wood so that witches wouldn’t enter. Also you may notice alot of old cottages in the Fens have very old holly bushes or hedges in their front gardens – these were planted aswell to ward of witches and bad fairies.
So if you want to be protected from spooky mysterious doings and make your home look as festive as something out of ‘A Christmas Carol’ – a holly bush may be just the thing!
Here’s some lovely varieties to choose from:
The traditional holly. This is the one that our ancestors would have used and in my opinion the best of the bunch for decorations. It also makes great hedging.
If you do want to grow this one – you need to be aware of two things – Although like most hollies, it is slow growing it does eventually grow enormous if left to its own devices – however if grown as a tree, over zealous pruning will ruin its form. Also you need to ensure that you purchase a female one and have a male one planted somewhere nearby otherwise you won’t get any berries.
This variety is fine is semi shade or sun.
Ilex aquifolium ‘Pyramidalis’
This one is far better for a small garden or grown as a specimen tree. The conical shape as its name suggests creates a well formed small tree growing to around 6 metres at maturity. It has many of the characteristics of the traditional Holly being evergreen and needing a male nearby to fruit – but has far less spiny leaves.
Ilex aquilfolium ‘J C Van Tol’
Again it isn’t spiny but has dark evergreen leaves and an abundance of berries and is a smaller variety growing to around 6 metres at maturity. A lovely specimen for a smaller garden but like all hollies needs a bit of patience as its very slow growing.
Ilex aquifolium ‘Argentea marginata’
If you’re not so much of a traditionlist and like the varigated look. This lovely holly could be the one for you. It has beautifully frilly spiky leaves of darkest green edged with creamy silver – already decorated for Christmas!
Again this will need a male nearby in order to bear fruit and it grows to a stately 15 metres so is best in a larger garden or as a specimen tree in a smaller garden.
Ilex crenata ‘Dark Green’
This one is great for those with a contemporary garden or who have had problems with their box hedges as it makes a great Buxus substitute.
Growing to around 4 metres tall if left but working brilliantly trimmed to topiary shapes or as a low hedge – its a great way of having a holly in a small or contemporary garden.
This is a really tough holly – tolerant of urban pollution so is a great choice for town and city gardens. Its leaves are small and not very holly like and its fruits are black and a bit sporadic – but it is a holly nevertheless!
So after reading all that and perhaps now ready to take the plunge and purchase one of these prickly pretties – how do you distinguish the difference between a male and female holly? Well – its not that easy to be honest. You may be lucky and find them labelled up as male and female but often that’s not the case. The easiest way is to buy and plant your holly in early autumn. That way you will be able to tell if your holly has berries – if it has… you have a girl – congratulations! Also its also a good time to plant your holly whilst the ground is still warm. The other way to tell is a bit trickier – when the hollies flower in summer, the male flowers will have longer stamens. Lastly their names give you a clue alot of the time with the males having names such as ‘Blue Prince’ and ‘Golden Milkboy’ and their female equivilents having the names ‘Blue Princess’ and ‘Golden Milkmaid’. This however is not a foolproof plan as just to confuse everything the very popular ‘Golden King’ is actually female whilst ‘Golden Queen’ is male as is ‘Silver Queen’. As you can see it gets rather confusing.
But confusion aside they make a great addition to your garden adding form and texture as well as winter interest and bird food and of course make wonderful Christmas decorations.