COLUMN: Growing a holly, jolly holiday season

Of all the evergreens we use to decorate our gardens and homes during the Christmas season, holly is still the most popular.

Of all the evergreens we use to decorate our gardens and homes during the Christmas season, holly is still the most popular.

Native to the British Isles and southern and central Europe, Ilex aquifolium, or English holly, is the traditional Christmas holly.

While traveling in England last fall, I noticed large forests of oaks with holly growing underneath as a companion plant.

The Latin name aquifolium means  needle-leafed, but many new varieties are much friendlier.

The use of holly dates back to Roman times when it was an emblem of goodwill and was sent from one home to another during the Festival of Saturn, celebrated from the 17th to the 19th of December.

The Christmas custom of decorating homes with holly probably dates back to this time.

The pagans in the British Isles were very superstitious, and holly played an important role in their lives.

Holly and ivy were used in fertility rites during the Fire Festival, which took place around the time of Christmas.

When Christian missionaries attempted to convert the pagans, it was often easier to accept pagan superstitions and incorporate them into the mainstream of Christian life.

Instead of being a symbol of welcome, good luck and eternal life, holly thorns came to signify the Passion of Christ and the berries, drops of blood.

Other superstitions persisted.

A holly tree, growing near one’s home, was believed to protect the family from thunder and lightning.

Holly was also hung before mistletoe, otherwise bad luck would come down the chimney on Christmas Eve.

After Christmas, holly must be taken down before Epiphany Eve (Jan. 5), but a sprig should be retained to protect the house against lightning.

You could sure get into a lot of trouble by not knowing your holly lore.

Most older holly varieties were unisexual, meaning both male and female plants were needed for pollination.

Newer varieties, developed over the years, have eliminated the need for two trees.

This is good news for smaller landscapes that can accommodate only one tree.

All variegated forms, however, need a pollinator.

Self-fertile varieties make good pollinators.  In the case of hardy blue hollies, both male and female plants can be planted together in the same hole and thus save space.

The best English varieties to plant are the self-fertile San Gabriel (which produces seedless berries) and the hardier San Jose Hybrid.

I have seen both of these varieties produce berries even as small plants, which is so different from the older types.

One of the most popular holly varieties today, however, is the Dutch variety, J.C. Van Tol. Unlike its English counterpart, its leaves are much smoother – a real treat when you are making wreaths or door swags.

This variety also produces berries even as a small plant and is absolutely loaded as it grows up to 30 feet.

One of the newer compact hollies is a hardy variety called I.a. Red Beauty. Growing only 7-10 feet tall in a conical form, it’s an ideal patio specimen or small garden holly. It is self fertile and hardy to zone 6.

The newer and more compact blue hollies, Blue Boy and Blue Girl are a cross between the aquifoliums and Ilex rugosas, which give them the hardiness rating of zone four.  Blue Prince and Blue Princess varieties seem to be far more popular.

Their compact habit and black-green leaves provide a lovely contrast to their large, bright red berries.  In spite of their hardy nature, treat them like a traditional broad-leafed plant and keep them out of winter winds.

The variegated forms of English holly are in great demand each Christmas, but unfortunately, very few are grown in home gardens. The silver and green leafed variety, Argenteo-marginata is, by far, the most popular.  Golden King is one of the best golden variegated varieties, and like the Dutch variety, has almost spineless leaves.   Both need pollinators.

One of the hottest berried plants for this time of year is a totally unique deciduous holly called Ilex verticillata.

When the leaves fall off, a stunning display of vibrant red berries smother the branches.

While in high demand by the floral industry for Christmas décor, they are also the number one choice of birds for winter food.

You need both a male and a female for pollination, so make sure you purchase two plants or a pot with both male and female together.

It’s that time of year again when we start thinking about decorating our gardens for Christmas, and holly is certainly a universal favourite.

If you want to grow at least one in your landscape, remember: They need very good drainage.

 

Brian Minter is a master gardener who operates Minter Gardens in Chilliwack.

Surrey North Delta Leader

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Surrey Fire Fighters Charitable Society doing ‘better than we were expecting’ amid COVID-19

At one point, the board thought it might have a donation shortfall of $250,000

Delta artist John Horton named to Order of British Columbia

Honour for significant contributions made to the appreciation and safety of B.C.’s coastal history

Man arrested in ‘after-hours club crackdown’ in Whalley, Surrey RCMP say

Police say they received information about clubs, parties ‘springing up’ at commercial properties

53 new COVID-19 cases, no new deaths cap off week of high infection rates in B.C.

Roughly 1,500 people are self-isolating because they either have COVID-19 or have been exposed to it

UPDATE: Police have Maple Ridge hotel locked down

A large contingent of Mounties are at the Art Infiniti Hotel on Lougheed Highway

3 Vancouver police officers test positive for COVID after responding to large party

Union president says other officers are self-isolating due to possible exposure

New mothers with COVID-19 should still breastfeed: Canada’s top doctor

Dr. Theresa Tam made the recommendation during World Breastfeeding Awareness Week

Collapse of Nunavut ice shelf ‘like losing a good friend:’ glaciologist

The ice shelf on the northwestern edge of Ellesmere Island has shrunk 43 per cent

PHOTOS: Moving day for 110-year-old Fraser Valley heritage house

Chilliwack heritage house makes 1.7-kilometre journey to new location

Plainclothes Abbotsford police officer deletes cellphone video after drawing gun on innocent man

‘They never asked me what I was doing there, strictly came out with guns, threatening to shoot me’

CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for Aug. 7

Crime Stoppers’ weekly list based on information provided by police investigators

Construction underway on Langley’s new hospice residence

The new 15-bed facility is slated for completion in summer 2021

Most Read