Plant Profiles: Holly

Photo of holly berries in Trowbridge
Lots of jolly holly berries - found outside Holy Trinity Church, Trowbridge. They had a jolly red door to match. 
It's around this time of the year when I rue not having a holly tree in our garden. I hanker after oodles of red berries like the ones in the above photo, ready to nourish the visiting birds and my designs on wreath making. I've found some holly trees in our neighbourhood, but they don't seem to berry that much.

Readers from a very long time ago may recall I did indeed possess a holly tree at one time. Encouraged by the one I'd admired in Threadspider's garden when she lived at the top of the hill, I impulse bought a fetching Ilex aquifolium 'Argentea marginata'. Sadly as I suspected when I blogged about it, I never found the right spot in the garden and it didn't survive my mistreatment.

However, we're now at the time when the garden beckons with all kinds of possibilities and plans are formed for the coming year. I'm rethinking the shrubbery at the bottom of the back garden, plus the front side garden. I don't think anything with prickly leaves is suitable for the back, but there are a couple of boring conifers at the front which could make way for something more exciting.

I'm looking out of my study window as I write this and pondering that front garden. I've noticed the conifers form a focal point in the winter when the other trees around there have shed their leaves. Perhaps a replacement holly tree with jolly red berries might be just the thing?
Cultivation Notes

Photo of the leaves of the holly tree Ilex aquifolium 'Argentea marinata'
Holly trees are easy to grow and suitable for most soils and situations. They are fully hardy throughout the UK. If you want berries, you need to ensure you buy a female tree and that a male one is nearby. Male trees tend not to be as dramatic, so the general advice is to hide it away somewhere in the garden.

Beware, the tree's name isn't necessarily a guide to its gender, so it's best to check what you're getting when you buy.

Photo of holly tree flowers Hollies can grow up to 12 metres in height, though they can take quite a while (20 to 50 years) to get there. However, they respond well to clipping and can be grown as a hedge, or trained into different shapes. I've seen a couple of houses on my travels where clipped standard hollies in huge pots form a nice welcome to a front garden.

I've looked again at my image at the top of this post and noticed hardly any of the leaves are prickly. Apparently holly trees have adapted to grazing by herbivores by developing prickly leaves lower down the tree and those out of reach are smooth.

Apart from those herbivores, holly is relatively free from pests and diseases. My Ilex died from neglect supplemented by invasions by scale insects and holly leaf miner on my weakened tree. Aphids and holly leaf blight are the two other concerns to look out for.

I also have a nagging feeling at the back of my mind that I've seen some holly tree cultivars that are entirely smooth leaved which might be an option to consider for my garden. I need to do some further research.

Propagation is by seed - if you have the patience - or by semi-hardwood cuttings.

Whilst birds can feast on the bright red berries with impunity, unfortunately we can't. Beware an upset stomach if you do.

The National Plant Collection of hollies is held at RHS Rosemoor in Devon.

Further reading

The photo of holly flowers is courtesy of Penny Mayes via Wikimedia.
Plant Profiles is sponsored by Whitehall Garden Centre.

Note to readers:
Sponsorship goes towards my blogging costs; the words are my own There are no cookies or affiliate links associated with this post.


  1. I love holly too. I have a little bit as part of a hedge. There are some lovely low standards around that I've seen, almost like mushrooms, short stocky stems with a good ball of holly on top. I'd love one of them. No idea where I'd put it though, unless it doesn't mind a north facing front garden.

    1. I like the sound of that too CJ - the front of the house faces north and I'm wondering if it'd like being by our front door...

  2. Holly, fabulous to look at with it's gorgeous berries in the winter. A pain to tidy though especially gathering the dead leaves (ouch!). And there are several varieties of it too that looks so exotic!

    1. I've found the same with Osmanthus tricolor and finally got rid of it earlier this year. The spot I have in mind for the holly gets left to its own devices so wouldn't be such a pain to look after!

  3. I like holly and would certainly have one/some if I had a garden. Flighty xx

    1. Is there an opportunity up at the plot e.g. as a hedge somewhere?

  4. That looks a fine specimen VP. We spent the weekend in Cumbria where out on a Sunday constitutional I noticed a large holly smothered in berries - if it had been later in the year I might have done some judicial pruning. We've had a couple of hollies emerge in the garden presumably introduced by visiting birds but they are decidedly diddy as yet. I have a feeling that they will not amount to much but will leave them be.

    1. The birds haven't been so generous here Anna, I get lots of cotoneaster instead! I suppose that reinforces the notion that the local holly trees haven't been that prolific with their berries :(

  5. We have a few hollies but never seem to get many berries, the one in your photo is amazing with its wonderful crop.

    1. I wonder if they're a male holly or lacking the male tree? That's the thought I'm having with my local trees...


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