Both Holly (Ilex) and Ivy (Hedera) have such wonderful foliage and berries, they really should be in every garden!
Holly is a tree that is native to our country and celebrated at this time of year. It can be found in hedgerows, woodlands and scrubby areas. Not all Holly leaves are prickly. Look closely and you will find some have smooth margins. Traces of the Holly Leaf Miner (an insect) can usually be found on inspection of the leaves. Holly is dioecious; it has separate male and female plants. The wonderful berries form on the female plant so if you are after these, make sure you ask for this at the nursery.
Ilex is good for topiary. You should consider Box substitutes anyway because Box is under fire from several pathogens including the Box Tree Moth, Cydalina perspectalis and Box Blight. I know of cases of Box Tree Moth in this area in the last year. The ‘new box’ is Ilex crenata, it has small leaves and no prickles. The Japanese have been using it for topiary for years. You could also try Ilex x aquifolium ‘Alaska’; it grows to 6m, has a conical shape and fruits very well.
One of the best variegated hollies is Ilex x aquifolium ‘Angustimarginata Aurea’. Also good to seek out is Ilex x aquifolium ‘Wateriana’, both are very good plants for hedging, topiary or as freestanding shrubs.
Ivy is a fantastic wildlife plant. It has flowers late in the summer/early autumn which are great for Hover Flies, Bees and other insects. It produces the best autumn nectar for insects and scientists have found out that bees rely on it as it is of such high quality. After these flowers come the berries that see lots of birds through the winter eg Blackbirds and Thrushes.
There is a myth about Ivy that it should be removed from trees. The reason why arboriculturalists remove it is to inspect the health of the trunk, not because it does any harm. So keep your Ivy in place for your pleasure and for the wildlife please!
You can use Ivies to grow on fences, up walls, over pergolas, for ground cover and even to stabilise banks. Good all rounders to plant are Hedera helix ‘Golden Girl’ and ‘Ceridwen’, both *RHS AGM plants. Hedera colchica is the largest leaved of the genus and the quickest for covering walls and the ground. It doesn’t produce the roots that H helix does so might need a bit of support when climbing.
*RHS AGM meaning: The Award of Garden Merit is a long-established annual award for plants by the British Royal Horticultural Society. It is based on assessment of the plants' performance under UK growing conditions.
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