I received this beautiful holly as a gift from a group of very special friends this autumn. This Ilex ‘Nellie R. Stevens’ specimen was purchased from Squire’s Garden Centre in Milford, Surrey, where it was described as an ‘Instant Impact’ plant. This standard holly cost £99.99, the plant is guaranteed by Squire’s for three years from the date of purchase. Ilex ‘Nellie R. Stevens’ is quite a traditional looking, evergreen holly, it has a few spines on its leaves, but it’s not as spiky as many hollies.
Hollies are dioecious, they produce male and female flowers on separate plants. Self fertile hollies are available, for example Ilex aquifolium ‘JC Van Tol’, but if you’re not growing a self fertile variety, then you’ll need to have a male holly growing somewhere nearby to ensure pollination for a bumper crop of holly berries every autumn and winter.
It’s not always easy at first glance to tell which hollies are male and which are female, as some of the names given to holly cultivars can be misleading – Ilex aquifolium ‘Silver Queen’ is in fact a male plant, and Ilex x altaclerensis ‘Golden King’ is a female holly. Female hollies produce flowers, which after successful pollination are followed by berries, whereas the male plants produce flowers to pollinate the female plants, but don’t produce berries. One male holly can pollinate a large number of female hollies.
Ilex ‘Nellie R. Stevens’ is a female clone that produces orange-red coloured berries in autumn and winter. Ilex ‘Nellie R. Stevens’ has a naturally bushy growth habit, so when trained as a standard, this holly creates a lovely, full lollipop shape.
Hollies are very accommodating plants, they grow well in sunshine or partial shade, in any well drained soil. I have grown hollies in a wide range of different conditions, including growing hollies in more shaded conditions than partial shade with success. I have found hollies don’t generally grow as well in very heavy soil, hollies really don’t enjoy growing in wet soil, so if wet conditions are prevalent in your garden, why not consider growing your holly in a container?
Standard hollies, like my Ilex ‘Nellie R. Stevens’ can be pruned in springtime. Firstly remove any dead branches, then trim to maintain your desired shape. Keep pausing and stepping back from the plant, to check your work as you prune – it’s far easier to correct any mistakes, and indeed to avoid making mistakes, when you prune in a slow, calm, and relaxed manner, making regular observations and checks of your work.
Spring is also a good time to re-pot your holly if need be. Select a pot the next size up from the current container, ensure your chosen container has at least one drainage hole. You’ll find more information about potting up containers here.
If you’re not re-potting your holly, it’s a good idea to top dress your plant each spring- remove the top layer of compost from around your plant (this spent compost can be added to the compost heap) and then top dress with fresh, new compost.
A wide variety of different Ilex cultivars are available – you’ll find variegated types with different colours of variegation, as well as hollies with a variety of different shapes and sizes of leaf, both with spines and without. There are even the occasional weeping form of holly, such as Ilex aquifolium ‘Argentea Marginata Pendula’.
With box blight (Cylindrocladium buxicola and Volutella buxi) and box tree moth caterpillars (Cydalima perspectalis) becoming an increasingly difficult problem to control in the UK, many small-leaved, evergreen plants are being grown as replacements for Buxus sempervirens and other varieties of box, including Ilex crenata. If you know someone who is struggling with their box hedges or topiary, and is looking for alternative plants, Ilex crenata is one of many to consider as a replacement for box.
Ilex crenata is a small-leaved, slow growing, evergreen holly, which can be found growing naturally in China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan.
Ilex crenata is a naturally slow growing plant, it requires pruning once or twice a year, in May and September. Its compact, yet naturally dense, bushy form, together with its small leaves, makes this holly ideal for growing as hedging or topiary specimens. Ilex crenata grows well in the shade or in a sunny spot, in any well drained, moist garden soil.
Holly berries are especially popular with blackbirds and thrushes. Hollies are a good plant to include if you’re looking to encourage birds to your garden, as hollies are fantastic hedging, specimen, and container plants, which provide shelter, food, and nest sites for a wide variety of birds and wildlife.
Holly flowers are popular with bees – the holly’s tiny white flowers provide valuable nectar for bees and other pollinating insects over a prolonged period.
Ilex aquifolium is the food plant for the beautiful, aptly named Holly Blue butterfly (which is also known by its scientific name of Celastrina argiolus). The caterpillars of the Holly Blue butterfly are very small, it’s unlikely that you would ever notice any damage caused to an Ilex aquifolium specimen from these tiny insects, even if you were to spend some time looking for the caterpillars. I leave any fallen holly leaves to biodegrade in situ in my garden, as often a Holly Blue butterfly chrysalis will be among the fallen holly leaves – the chrysalis will need to be left undisturbed in the garden, so that the caterpillar can make its transformation, and emerge as a butterfly when the timing is right.
Ilex ‘Nellie R. Stevens’, or indeed any holly of your choosing, would make a super gift for a friend or relative this Christmas.
If you’re not fond of hollies, but would like to choose a different plant as a gift this Christmas, you might like to consider bare root trees and bare root roses, which are available at this time of year and can be pre-ordered in advance. If you’re looking for winter flowering plants, Hellebores, snowdrops, Hamamelis, and Skimmias, produce beautiful winter and spring flowers. Or maybe you’d rather gift a houseplant, such as an African violet, cactus, orchid, or indoor palm, alternatively you may prefer to give a garden voucher, and invite the lucky recipient of your gift to make their own selection. Visit your local nursery or garden centre, where I am sure you’ll find lots of ideas and inspiration.
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