Before finishing up here today we’ll have a good idea of the number of hollies in the garden. I haven’t counted (and won’t), but I’m guessing the number will be a dozen, and possibly a few more. I suppose that I can recall all the varieties, and then how many of each are planted, so I’ll compare at the end to see if I’m at least close. To cover all the hollies adequately I suspect I’ll have to go into a second day, but we’ll figure that out when we near the end today.
The purpose for this inventory is to highlight some wonderful broadleaf evergreens. Today, in mid December most of the hollies are covered with red berries. On some hollies the berries are bunched in clusters at the branch tips, while others have berries along the length of the branches. I don’t grow the hollies only for the berries, but also because I favor their dark foliage and pyramidal form, whether used as an evergreen screen from neighboring properties, or as an anchor to neighboring plants.
A good starting point in this listing is the American holly (Ilex opaca, above). This is the only native of the garden’s hollies, and all of the Opaca hollies in the garden are seedlings that randomly popped up, mostly in partially shaded areas where I suppose birds deposited the seed. Some have been transplanted around, but most have been allowed to grow where they sprouted. There’s no doubt that I’ve chopped out many dozens over the years since there are only so many thirty feet tall hollies that will fit in any garden.
I’ll count one American holly towards the total inventory since only one has grown above head high, and this is the only one that has yet displayed any berries. The berries are sparse compared to the other hollies, and they are dull red and not at all glossy. The American hollies are quite slow growing, and they are sparsely branched until their middle age when they begin to thicken up a bit. The foliage is a dull green, nothing remarkable by comparison to other dark and glossy leafed hollies, but still, the native holly grows to be a magnificent evergreen once it has gained some size.
I find it interesting that every American holly seedling has a different leaf shape (two photos above). There are varying number of spines, and some leaves are wider or more narrow. None of this is unusual in plants growing from seed, and this is perhaps a subject for another day, but it interests me and this is part of the reason I allow so many of the seedlings to remain.
The natural starting point in discussing the non-native and hybrid hollies is to begin with the ubiquitous ‘Nellie Stevens’ (Ilex x ‘Nellie R. Stevens’, above). This holly is seemingly found in half the landscapes east of the Mississippi, but I’ve been around enough to know that this is with some good cause. ‘Nellie Stevens’ has good, medium dark green foliage, and it grows quickly enough and full enough to earn high marks. I regularly recommend this holly, but there is only one in the garden.
Several hollies in the garden are similar in appearance to ‘Nellie Stevens’, and their growth habit is not so much different. ‘Mary Nell’ and ‘Robin’ are indistinguishable from a distance, though the spined foliage of ‘Mary Nell’ (above) gives it a distinct texture at closer range that I favor.
‘Robin’ has few berries this year, and the abundant berries of ‘Mary Nell’ have not fully ripened to red. ‘Robin’ was part of a group of hollies marketed for awhile as Red Hollies, for all had conspicuous red new growth. I planted a sampling of these when they were first introduced, and several (‘Little Red’, ‘Cardinal’, ‘Festive’, and ‘Patriot’, above) have faded from popular commerce.
This is quite enough for one day, and I hesitate to admit that as I’ve compiled a list there are far more hollies in the garden than I estimated. I suppose this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. In the second chapter there will be many more berries, so please check back in at the start of the week.