Truly time for holly to step up

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Gardening writer CEDRIC BRYANT remembers he’d forgotten to write about holly… for decades! 

IN my 30 or so years of writing, I can’t recall ever discussing or recommending the Ilex or holly family. 

Cedric Bryant.

In the UK it’s a favourite Christmas decoration with the bright-red berries set against the glossy, green leaves. 

There are more than 400 genus with the famous Hillier’s Nursery (UK) listing nearly 200 varieties, almost all evergreen; although there are some less-interesting deciduous varieties. Ilex range from Europe to the East with some interesting varieties from Japan. 

Years ago, I was looking for a columnar variety to give added interest and height to our garden. There are plenty of conifers such as pencil pines, but all these were too large for my purpose. Plus I also wanted this narrow, upright shape to grow in pots. 

Ilex “Sky Pencil”… adds vertical garden interest.

My search ended when I saw exactly the plant in an English garden magazine; Ilex crenata “Sky Pencil”. As the name suggests, this is a columnar and referred to as box holly with no prickles similar to Buxus leaves. 

Growing to about 50 centimetres wide and two metres tall, the two I have in our garden retain their shape perfectly. Besides being a specimen plant, it also makes a great hedge.

Another favourite is Ilex aquifolium x angustifolia with tiny leaves growing to a rounded shape up top two metres tall with a spread of about 1.5 metres. To retain its shape, I have only to give it a light trim every few years. 

The most common holly is Ilex aquifolium renowned for its red berries. This grows to at least five metres tall and, as a hedge, makes a perfect security screen. No intruder is going to attempt to climb through or over this one! 

Evergreen hollies can add interest to any garden, especially in winter.

FOLLOWING recent rain, now’s the time to give plants an autumn feed. My usual suggestion is using liquid certified organic Multicrop Seaweed plant nutrient. With the ground now moist, this will be absorbed down to the root zone. 

Ilex aquifolium… can be perfectly shaped.

ARE we getting carried away about climate change? The Horticultural Society received an email from a Canberra print journalist who was inspired by a story in the German newspaper “Badische Zeitung” in Freiburg, that reported one springtime flower had come out in its botanic gardens in winter due to some unusually warm weather. 

The journalist asked if “advice in earlier editions of the ‘Canberra Gardener’ will have to be updated for the changing climate of Canberra”? 

May I respectfully suggest the writer is not a gardener. Some plants have been flowering out of season for millennia irrespective of possible climate change.

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Cedric Bryant
Trained horticulturist and garden designer with over 30 years experience in the industry.

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