holly with berriesSo it’s coming up to Christmas and those traditional displays of greenery in the house like Mistletoe, Ivy and of course Holly are being assembled as I write. But someone in Cumbria has a problem. George Alloway in Cockermouth asks:

‘My holly bush never seems to have any berries, but my neighbour’s has loads. What’s wrong?’

George, it sounds like a classic case of ‘not the right holly’, or rather that you probably have a male bush and your neighbours a female- only the female will produce fruit (berries) and this plant is probably being pollinated by yours!

Formally clipped Hollies at Kew Gardens

Formally clipped Hollies at Kew Gardens

Hollies (Ilex) mainly come in male and female varieties and so you need both to ensure that you have berries. Hollies, apart from their decorative value around the house at Christmas, are a wonderful small tree or shrub to have in your garden, especially in a border that runs into woodland (as is the case in Old School Garden) – they are a classic ‘understorey’ or edge of woodland plant.

So, if you want berries, make sure you have a mix of male and female plants or go for a self fertile variety like ‘J.C. van Tol’ which is a regular fruiter, has oval-elliptical leaves and grows into a conical shape up to 6m. It also can be grown as a standard tree (i.e. having a bare stem of at least 1 metre length).

You could also buy a female variety to sit alongside your other, probably male, bush. A good variety is ‘Golden King’- despite the name, this is a female! Just to confuse matters further there’s a lovely male variety called ‘Silver Queen’ – variegated with broad and irregular white-yellowish margins and dark olive-green centres, this one grows to 4-6 metres high. It has the added feature of new leaves being tinged light pink.

I guess in these days of tolerance on sexual orientation, we shouldn’t get too het up about these naming confusions!

Old School Gardener