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Holly

Holly

To the left of the main path into the Garden from the Visitor Centre and next to the grass labyrinth

Commonly known as English or Common holly, Ilex aquifolium is a species of holly native to the UK, western and southern Europe, northwest Africa, and southwest Asia. 

There are 500-600 different species of holly worldwide, these are evergreen or deciduous trees, shrubs, and climbers from tropics to temperate areas. The greatest diversity of species is found in the Americas and in Southeast Asia especially China.  Many species, especially those native to the topics are under threat from ongoing deforestation and habitat loss.

Common Holly is a hardy evergreen tree growing up to 15 metres and can live for 300 years or more. It is exceptionally shade tolerant commonly growing in the understorey of woods.  Common Holly will grow quite happily in full sun and is happy in most soils except very those that are very wet.  Its distinctive spiny leaves are found on lower branches to deter grazing animals. On higher branches the leaves have virtually no spines.

Although it is closely associated with Christmas, the tradition of holly decoration predates Christianity and probably began with the early pagans of Europe, who brought holly inside in the winter to keep evil spirits away. The Romans sent holly branches with presents during the December festival of Saturnalia., which was held in honour of the god Saturn. Originally held on 17 December, it was later expanded with festivities through to winter solstice.

Holly clips very well, together with its evergreen nature and tolerance of most environment conditions makes it a very good plant for use in a hedge or as topiary. Clip holly hedges and topiarised hollies in August. If variegated hollies produce plain green shoots, remove them promptly.

Holly is dioecious, meaning it has separate male and female plants. The white flowers appear in May and are pollinated by bees, wasps, flies, and butterflies. The berries develop on female plants by late November and are an important food for birds, but you wouldn't want to eat them -they are rather tough and bitter, causing vomiting and diarrhoea if eaten in large numbers. Holly leaves are also a food plant of the caterpillar of the adeptly named butterfly - the Holly Blue.

 

AGM LogoAGM  (Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit).  This award indicates that this plant is recommended by the RHS following plant trials during which the plant met strict criteria testing its garden worthiness.  More information