IT'S THE WEEKEND: Grow It - Holly isn't just for Christmas

South Wales Argus: (2992638) (2992638)

HOLLY is not only festive and a great decoration around Christmas time but it’s also one of the most attractive - and easy - plants to maintain and grow.

It has been traditionally connected to Christmas and festivals associated with it for centuries.

Nowadays, Christians often look at the prickly thorns and red berries as symbolic of the crown Jesus wore during his crucifixion.

But despite its traditional Christmas values, holly is a versatile plant that can make a garden look great all year round.

It’s tough nature means that it will stand out as bright green amongst an abundance of brown leaves come autumn, and will grow almost anywhere.

Holly is a fine evergreen tree and hedging plant. It can look superb natural or be more sophisticated when clipped into balls, arbours and arches.

The advantage of the plant is that it can grow in places that a lot of plants would struggle such as dark, damp and shady spots.

It needs little care or grooming, with the first six months vital to stop it drying out but then they are free to develop.

They can grow up to 30ft – but will take a long time to reach that – and the prettier ones, especially around Christmas time, are the Holly plants that are covered with berries.

“Holly is really easy for anyone to grow,” says Rob Williams, the Argus’ gardening expert. “It’ll develop anywhere and it isn’t hard for someone to grow.

“It starts off slowly but continues growing and develops really well.

“It doesn’t need much care or attention, you just have to stop it drying out in the first six months then watch it grow.

“A lot more holly trees are sold at this time of year and people use them outside or as decorations inside and in presents.”

Common holly, Ilex aquifolium, is the most widely grown holly in Britain but there are over 500 other species worldwide. Common holly is a hardy tree or shrub, capable of surviving in most conditions.

Its distinctive spiny leaves deter animals and protect birds from predators as they feed on its bright red berries.

Some holly leaves are spotted whilst others are dark green. Some have very few spines on the leaves, others, like hedgehog holly Ilex aquifolium “Ferox” have an abundance of spines that break through the centre of the leaf as well as appearing on the edges.

Most holly bushes will carry a female flower, or a male flower but very rarely both.

For a holly bush that produces berries you will need to make sure you have one of each growing together to allow pollination which will see the berries develop.

However, there is one exception. Pyramidalis is a self-fertile plant which means it can grow berries on its own rather than needing a male to pollinate.

Pyramidalis is a variety of the common Ilex aquifolium holly and has a conical shape when broadening out to a dense upright nature making it a great plant for hedging.

As well as this, being self-fertile means that it can produce the berries that make a hedge really stand out in a garden.

A different variety of Holly that stands out is blue holly, Ilex meserveae. It has purple stems and extremely dark blue-green foliage which offers something very different to keen gardeners.

It also grows very glossy red berries when pollinated which adds to the appeal of this variety of holly.

A berried holly bush not only looks great through the year but unlike most plants, it continues to shine through winter.

It grows the same in winter or summer, in shade or sun and is very attractive when red berries grow.

An investment in a holly plant at any time of year would be a wise move. And it isn’t just for Christmas, it’s for the whole year.

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