Holly - Latin name Ilex are a familiar garden favourite shrub. Hollies are often associated with Christmas, and the right combination will produce winter berries. However Holly is a good addition to the garden and to a shrub border; the brightly variegated foliage will cheer up a dark corner and Hollies do tolerate partial shade. Hollies are easy to grow, trouble free and so definitely a green wheelbarrow shrub. They are tenacious and once planted usually survive and thrive, the only drawback is that Hollies are slow growing. Hollies are best planted in sun or at least partial shade as they need sun to produce the brightest variegated foliage. Hollies look well in a shrub or woodland border, and also as a specimen shrub. Given that they are slow growing buying a more mature specimen maybe a good idea. There are many evergeen shrubs which are fast growing if you want to create a screen or privacy but Holly is not one of them. It an take up to 20 -25 years for a Holly Shrub or Tree to reach maturity and full size. Slow growing can also be an advantage. If you have ever planted a shrub in an ideal spot only to discover within a couple of years or so its getting to big for its allocated space you will know then the dilemma of either moving it, or very regular pruning to keep it in check.
Hollies prefer soil to be on the moist side but well drained and are best planted late winter or early spring. The can be trained into a standard which can look very attractive in a mixed border. They can also be grown in a coastal garden and tolerate urban pollution.
Hollies are suitable to make a wind resistant hedge, and once planted resent transplanting. An easy maintenance free shrub. In terms of size and spread many Hollies are large, 12- 20 metres is not uncommon. Most gardens will require something much smaller, there are a few compact varieties such as 'Golden Gem' up to around 1 m, 'Wiesmoor Silber' 2.5m it is always worth checking the eventual size on the plant label.
How to get berries on Hollies
One of the main attractions of Hollies are the berries, and to get berries it is necessary to have male and female plants which might appear easy but the names are very confusing. A popular variety, Golden King, is female, Golden Queen is male, similarly Silver Milkmaid is male, and so the only way to be sure to get berries is to ask when buying the shrub to make sure you get a male and female variety. Illustrated above left is Ilex aquifolium 'Argentea marginata' which is a broad leaved silver holly, (female) which is a popular variety widely available. It will produce berries provided a male shrub is planted nearby. Illustrated above right is Ilex × altaclerensis 'Golden King' which is also female.
Hollies are good in a wildlife garden as the berries as they provide an invaluable food source. Great winters colour in the variegated foliage and you can bring in to decorate the house.