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Plants for Christmas - Hollies

Holly is a classic plant for Christmas, and any gardeners with a vested interest in the seasons. Even before Christmas, holly was used to decorate homes in celebration of the winter solstice, and the plant has only gained popularity as an ornamental specimen since then.

It’s smart, hardy, evergreen, and makes for a useful native shrub or tree. There are many varieties to explore here, though you’re likely most familiar with the native Ilex acquifolum. Female trees produce the vibrant, red berries we now associate with Christmas, though they need the help of a male tree nearby to pollinate.

This is one of the reasons Ilex acquifolum is commonly put to use in hedging and boundaries. In mixed hedging and rural areas there will usually be enough of both trees to produce holly berries, and once fully established holly provides a prickly deterrent to humans and animals alike.

Ilex acquiform

Ilex acquifolum, showing striking colours in berries and foliage

Other varieties are self-fertile, and will generally produce berries whether there are other plants around or not. If you’re looking for a gift or purchase for planting in a smaller garden this is the way to go. See variegated hollies for good examples of self-fertile specimens. Ilex aquifolium argentea marginata has a cream and green leaf, while Ilex ‘Nellie Stevens’ boasts a glossy green leaf slightly less prickly than common holly, with a good crop of bright red berries. Placed nearby a house with light falling on variegated hollies can really brighten up dull, winter days.

Nellie Stevens

‘Nellie Stevens’, featuring smoother, glossy leaves

If you have a keen interest in topiary, there are even holly variants to compare with conventional topiary box. Ilex crenata, the Japanese Holly, is an ideal smaller shrub for shaping into a stunning bonsai or topiary specimen.

While fit for many purposes, holly’s undemanding nature makes it especially appropriate as a gift. It’s generally appropriate for most soil types and situations. It’s wind tolerant, and the green varieties are shade tolerant too.

So if you’re still stuck on finding the right plant for winter, it’s worth taking another look at holly.

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