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Festive favourites – Holly and Ivy

©Adam Pasco Media. Holly varieties including Ilex 'Golden King'

The HTA Plant of the Moment highlights reliable and trustworthy plants that are guaranteed to perform well in almost any garden - providing garden centres with an insight into what the hottest plants of the month are.



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6 December 2017

It will soon be Christmas, and what better way to celebrate the season and bring festive cheer to your garden than with two traditional Christmas favourites – Holly and Ivy – both selected as the Horticultural Trade Association’s Plant of the Moment for December.

Countless cards carry their image, often with leaves touched by frost or covered with a crisp layer of snow, and your garden displays will have even greater appeal.

These are perfect garden plants, and they’ll provide material for indoor arrangements and table decorations too.

Both plant families offer a wide range of wonderful evergreen varieties, with many boasting beautifully variegated leaves; fruits and berries provide seasonal food for birds.

Holly is hardy and evergreen, making it an ideal shrub to form part of the backbone or structure for gardens. The common or English Holly (Ilex aquifolium) grows across the country, but as well as choosing holly with glossy green leaves there are lots of different cultivars with more colourful foliage.

Most holly plants are either male or female, so to ensure you get a crop of berries you’ll need to grow a female variety and ensure there’s a male nearby to pollinate its flowers.

However, the name can never be a guarantee of the plants sex, as the popular ‘Silver Queen’ is actually male, and ‘Golden King’ is a female berry-bearing variety.

With thick evergreen growth and spiny foliage, holly is also a good choice of shrub to form a dense and secure boundary hedge to a property. Most varieties carry spiny leaves, but for something with extra deterrent consider the variegated Hedgehog Holly (Ilex ‘Ferox Argentea’). Holly can also be tightly clipped into formal shapes and topiary too.

Leaf sizes and shapes vary enormously between varieties, so explore the Ilex family to discover more. For instance, the Box-leaved or Japanese Holly is often used to create small topiary features. Or for something a little different search out varieties of Blue Holly (Ilex x meserveae) that produce deep green leaves with a bluish tinge.

Ivy is a valuable climber or ground cover plant, perfect for a shady spot or for cladding bare fences or garden structures. However, it must be kept within bounds with regular pruning to prevent it spreading too far or becoming invasive.

©Adam Pasco Media. Ivy - Hedera colchica 'Sulphur Heart'.

©Adam Pasco Media. Ivy – Hedera colchica ‘Sulphur Heart’.

Hundreds of varieties have been bred over the years, and many garden favourites have colourful leaf forms or attractive variegated patterns adding to their appeal.

Established ivy carries flowers late in the season that provide valuable nectar for late-flying butterflies and bees, as well as great nesting site opportunities for blackbirds and others. Small-leaved ivy trails gracefully down the sides of baskets and containers, the perfect partner for many flowering and foliage plants.

Top four Holly varieties

From green to gold, silver and cream, choose holly varieties that will add interest to your customers’ garden right through the year, including these award-winning varieties:

  • Golden King – Berrying female variety
  • Silver Queen – Male variety
  • J.C. van Tol – Self-fertile berrying female variety
  • Hedgehog Holly (Ilex ‘Ferox Argentea’) – Male variety

Top four favourite Ivy varieties

Dozens of ivy varieties are available, and many of the best have received an Award of Garden Merit (AGM) from the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). Here are a few of the most popular ivy varieties to consider for your customers’ garden and patio pots:

  • Sulphur Heart (also sometimes called ‘Paddy’s Pride’)
  • Hedera colchica ‘Dentata Variegata’
  • Glacier – versatile variegated variety, often used in indoor arrangements
  • Ivalace – attractive crimpled and lobed green leaves

Other Holly varieties

Also highly recommended:

  • Ilex x altaclerensis – ‘Lawsoniana’ – Berrying female variety
  • Ilex aquifolium – ‘Argentea Marginata’ – variegated female variety
  • Ilex aquifolium – ‘Madame Briot’ – variegated female variety
  • Ilex aquifolium – ‘Handsworth New Silver’ – prolific berrying female. Variegated foliage.
  • Blue Holly Ilex x meserveae including Blue Angel, Blue Prince and Blue Princess

Other Ivy varieties

Also highly recommended:

  • Gloire de Marengo
  • Goldheart – also called ‘Oro di Bogliasco’
  • Hedera helix – ‘Parsley Crested’

Top tips for planning and planting

  • Prune holly carefully with secateurs to shorten individual shoots rather than a hedge cutter or shears that can tear and damage leaves.
  • Established, overgrown holly can be cut back hard in spring to encourage new growth to develop from nearer the base to revitalise old plants.
  • Ivy can be invasive, so check growth regularly through the year, snipping off wayward shoots to keep plants in check.
  • Plain green shoots sometimes develop on variegated plants. Prune these away at their base as soon as you spot them.

Other popular plants of the moment

Both Holly and Ivy fit in well with most garden plants, contributing to planting combinations that look good all-year-round. Ivy trained on fences can be grown in combination with other climbers, like the Crimson Glory Vine, Vitis coignetiae.

Partner-up holly with other shrubs and evergreens, or plant summer flowering clematis at their base so they can scramble up them for support and layer on a display of brilliant blooms.

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