Dig It! Holly (13 Nov 2017)
Join Hester this week on the new episode of Dig It! all about Holly.
With winter finally approaching, it’s time to rethink your pots for windowsills, balconies, and terraces. Any tender plants like geraniums need to be pruned back and overwintered and any plants like lobelias that were perfect in the summer and are now looking a bit sad, need to be put in the green bin for recycling. Beyond that, you might want to rethink the arrangement of the pots, as your usage of your garden or terrace changes with the winter weather. For me, the darker days over the coming months mean that I like to see pots at my front door, providing welcome colour and cheer even on wet, grey days. I also have a clutch of pots that I can see from my kitchen door, specifically planted up with a layered mix of bulbs and lots of winter colour in the shrubs and perennials on the top.
Over the last couple of weeks, we have been talking about the problems that boxwood plants now face, and suitable alternatives for pots and in the ground. One of the suggestions is for Ilex crenata “Dark Green”, which is a holly that behaves like box, perfect for acidic, well-drained soils, or a pot where you can recreate such conditions. Hollies aren’t just for Christmas, and there are quite a few that stay small and are perfect for winter pots. Ilex x meservae “Little Rascal” is one of these, slow growing, with dark green slightly spiny leaves, it also has dark red stems and shoots. If left unpruned, it will get to about 1m tall and wide and is very happy in a pot for its entire life. Grown by Asra Plants in the Netherlands, “Little Rascal” was looking fantastic at Groot Groen Plus in Zundert, a horticultural trade fair.
Hollies are funny plants, with male and female plants entirely separate, and so if you have a male plant, which “Little Rascal” is, you won’t have any berries for your Christmas decorations, or the birds to eat. If you’re after berrying plants, you need to buy a female plant, like “Blue Angel” or one of the very few self-fertile forms, like JC Van Tol.
Unfortunately, plant breeders have muddied the waters even further by giving female names, like Ilex “Silver Queen” to male plants, or male names to female plants, like “Golden King” so you can’t even make an educated guess when you’re buying! Ask at the garden centre when you buy, if you want berries, make sure you have a female plant and either buy a male plant as well to guarantee the berries or make sure you have one somewhere else in the garden.
If, like me, you are a Holly fan, then there are lots of other leaf colours to consider besides plain old dark green. The golden forms bring light to shady spots in the garden, like “Golden Van Tol” or Ilex meservae “Castle Gold” which is perfect for a pot. There are “blue” forms, which although, not actually bright blue in colour, have a bluish tint to the green leaves, “Blue Angel” mentioned earlier, is a good example, as are the superb, and the very hardy pair “Blue Prince” and “Blue Princess” bred in upstate New York to withstand the North American winter.
In terms of preferred conditions, hollies like well-drained soil and sun to part shade. In my heavy clay, hollies do well if I add plenty of organic material to the planting hole, and although they grow slowly for the first couple of years, soon start to steam away.