Holly, the prickly beauty

Holly is one of the most significant evergreen shrubs, with prickly foliage that has been used in Christmas decorations for centuries. It makes a great hedge or an excellent evergreen specimen shrub whether or not cut into any particular shape. Standard Holly looks fantastic in pots on the patio or deccking, where they will provide some welcome green in winter.

Variegated or shiny green
The shiny Holly foliage can be variegated or deep green, and are stunning as a hedge or pruned into shape and when covered in their orange-red berries. The leaves are leathery and have a prickly, serrated edge. However, those at the tips of the branches are not as prickly and are sometimes completely smooth. They will remain on the shrub for several years before they drop to make way for new foliage. Holly flowers in May with tiny white flowers. Evergreen Holly shrubs can be very long-lived, perhaps reaching 300 years in age, and a height of 10 metres.

Holly will grow anywhere
Holly is a very undemanding plant and will grow anywhere as long as the ground is not too wet. A sandy or humus rich soil type is preferable. Common (green) Holly is extremely hardy, but the variegated varieties are a little bit more sensitive. Holly thrives in full sunlight as well as in deep shade. The variegated varieties need rather a lot of sunlight in order to maintain the colour of the foliage.

Ideal for hedging or topiary
The dark, evergreen foliage makes Holly exceptionally suitable for cutting into straight forms, but it is also a good foundation for topiary shapes such as standard cubes, spheres, pyramids, boxes or any other fantasy shape. Traditional English gardens often feature Holly shapes as they grow much taller than the well-known Box shrubs and the variegated shapes are even more prominent.

Pruning tips
Holly naturally forms a very dense, impenetrable hedge with some varieties exhibiting a conical growing habit. It grows rather slowly and hardly needs pruning. Only branches that disturb the shape of the shrub should be cut out. For this, use a sharp pair of secateurs and wear heavy-duty gloves for protection. Clipping a hedge or pruning Holly into a particular shape takes a little bit more effort. Prune these shrubs twice a year, once in June and again at the end of August.

Standard Holly
A variegated, standard Holly clipped into a spherical shape is a decorative feature all year round. The gold and green coloured Ilex aquifolium 'Golden King' has fewer spines on the leaves and is therefore easier to cut into shape. The standard, green Holly Ilex meserveae has lovely shiny foliage and is suitable even for small gardens, decking or the patio. Standard Holly is very decorative along garden paths or in tubs next to the front door.

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