Out of the laurel forest
I had no sooner penned the above and Peter came around. In my first draft I had stated that constantly wet leaves have trouble with transpiration, Wiki had just told me!
He quickly debunked this notion and went on to explain that thick shiny leaves are much more significant for survival in dry dehydrating winds and added that holly was frequently found in cold windy exposed situations. My final protestation was to ask about the drip tip? He suggested that rather than remove excessive water it was perhaps more important to conserve water from misty-wet leaves by directing it to the roots!
The European Holly Ilex aquifolium is one of our few genuinely native evergreen hardwood trees. It has a long history entwined in ancient pagan traditions and land usage.
It was used as animal fodder and is highly nutritious. It was extensively planted for hedging and an old country saying is that the best place for lambing is under its cover. The siting of 200 year old hollies even now is taken as evidence of old boundaries.
ees ane olde hoa’se......
He salle be putt into the parke holyne for to gnaweold English C14 saying
|Ilex aquifolium ferox is rather prickly!|
You may protest that hollies are rather prickly for eating! Holly when browsed is spinescent. That is prickly new growth is promoted when leaves are eaten. Holly, free of poisonous berries, were cropped high on the bush where the leaves are smooth.There is some evidence that shoots several weeks old are preferred by farm animals. Indeed, deer and New Forest ponies have been observed to gnaw away small branches, let them fall to the ground and some weeks later to return to eat them.
|Cathi’s Soay sheep came running|
When I pruned Cathi’s holly and fed branches to her Soay sheep they came running and had a quick nibble before turning away as they do when they sample any new food. Now a month later those branches have been gnawed almost completely away. Yesterday I gave them some more of the original prunings and they eagerly started to eat them. Were they now confident that the the food was safe? And do animals find ‘weathered’ shoots taste better, perhaps sensing that natural toxins have broken down?
|Brighten a grey day|
I must tell you I am addicted to variegated plants and none of my seven hollies are green. I grow them as specimen shrubs in a more or less natural shape. I am generally quite scathing of folk who topiarise their shrubs by clipping them tightly! I came very close to this myself on one of my hollies recently when I got a little carried away with my petrol hedge trimmer. Actually it looks rather nice loosely clipped!
|I have since taken the top out|
Unfortunately small plants are very vulnerable to rabbits who just love it. I found this to my cost when I planted my new garden and with surgical precision they cut my new plants to the ground. Brenda contrived little bamboo cages around their replacements! Now that my hollies are large and unprotected they suffer no damage at all.
Holly’s main disadvantage as a hedge is that it is slow to establish. Variegated ones are painfully slow! This is the downside of their tolerance of deep shade. My advice is that if you are planting a holly hedge, to plant large container grown plants, economising a little by planting them perhaps at a fairly wide 45cm apart.
|Ironically, after several years, well established hollies actually grow very strongly as I know to my cost having just pruned some unwanted branches from Cathi’s tree.|
Most hollies have single sexed flowers. To get berries you need separate male and a female plants - unless you choose a hermaphrodite cultivar such as Ilex ‘Van Tol'. With seven hollies in my garden I have no problems with cross pollination although a male plant such as Ilex ‘Silver Queen’ is unable to berry! No, this is not a misprint, ‘Silver Queen’ is a male - and ‘Golden King’ is a female! Such confusion is common! What a shame breeders and botanists fail to talk!
|Golden King is a lady|
|I grow the silver and golden variegated forms of the more commonly green ‘Van Tol’. These clones are hermaphrodite and are not very spiny.|
|A flower in December! And look I have inadvertently photographed holly leaf minor|
|Peter has been taking semi ripe cuttings in his propagator|
|After four months future success is indicated as they have now callused over (nb callus does not develop into root and on some subjects can even impede root emergence from deep lying tissue)|
I had a holly tree in Bolton Percy which like the picture below had shoots close to the ground. I had contrived next to it a bed of raised soil. (These things happen). The wind blown branches abraded by the soil within eighteen months had rooted. A novel form of layering which illustrates their ease of rooting.
|Peter’s pendulous holly has needed a little help with careful pruning. You can just make out lower shoots on the ground. I wonder if they will root? (I don’t think he will leave them).|
Inspired by reading how easy they are to root I tried this November inserting some holly cuttings direct in the ground. Observe how I have wounded them by deliberately slicing. As is my wont, other than any leaves sliced away, all the leaves are intact. I have no idea how well the cuttings will root! Some of you will remember how I inserted many diverse hardwood cuttings two years ago and six months later reported their progress. I will again report my future success or failure!
|I collected about eighty shoots|
|Half of the cuttings I deliberately wounded|
|Like the iceberg most of the length of the cuttings are buried and only the tips are showing. Note my rich ‘terra preta’ soil|
Hedges are clipped and shrubs too can be lightly pruned with a hedge trimmer. Better for specimen shrubs and small trees to tastefully prune in a natural way using secateurs and loppers. Or as in the earlier picture a saw!
I normally take out large pieces when I prune. I decorated our courtyard for Christmas with some of my surplus prunings
|And then added a few crab apples for the blackbirds|
|Shame on me. My Golden King has reverted green. Unusually for reverting, the growth in this case comes from below the ground. (Such growth on shrubs is usually a rootstock suckering but my holly was not grafted).|
|These are my prunings - how could I have allowed such a state of affairs? Observe the pruned holly in the background|
|See the reverted yellow shoot. Where variegated hollies are foolishly cut back very hard to the trunk the new shoots usually revert to yellow and lack chlorophyll. Such a tree will die.|
|Mistlethrushes fearlessly defend their holly or mistletoe|