Everyone is familiar with our common holly, Ilex aquifolium, with its glossy evergreen leaves and red berries. But there are lots of other varieties to grow, some with attractive foliage and berries that range in colour from orange to purple.
Make a holly and skimmia pot display.
Hollies are generally male or female, so check before you buy. If you want berries on a female plant, you will need to plant a male nearby. Some cultivar names can be confusing: for example, Ilex aquifolium ‘Golden Queen’ is male, while Ilex x altaclerensis ‘Golden King’ is female.
Hollies are easy to grow – they will grow in sun or partial shade, and prefer moist but well drained soil. The variegated varieties keep their colours better in full sun. Hollies can be grown as specimen plants in a lawn, or in a mixed or shrub border, and some make excellent hedges – great for garden security. They need minimal pruning – just remove any diseased or wrongly placed branches in spring. Trim holly hedges in late summer.
If you are cutting holly as a festive decoration, pick some sprigs early in winter, before the berries get eaten by birds.
Here are 10 attractive hollies to grow.
Common holly, Ilex aquifolium, has shiny, evergreen leaves. It can be grown as a specimen tree, a clipped bush or a hedge. There are dozens of varieties, many of which have variegated leaves. Both a male and a female plant are required for the female plants to produce red berries, which appear from late autumn to mid-winter.
Height: over 12m
Ilex aquifolium ‘Argentea Marginata’
Ilex aquifolium ‘Argentea Marginata’ is a beautiful variegated female holly. Its spiny, dark green leaves have silver-cream edges, tinged pink when young. In autumn it produces masses of bright red berries. As it’s tolerant of salt and pollution, it’s particularly suitable for growing in urban or coastal sites.
Ilex aquifolium ‘Silver Queen’
Ilex aquifolium ‘Silver Queen’ is grown for its distinctive foliage – it has distinctive silver margins on its spiny and glossy green leaves. Despite its name, it’s a male plant, so does not produce berries. The stems and young foliage are purple.
Ilex aquifolium ‘Myrtifolia Aurea Maculata’
Ilex aquifolium ‘Myrtifolia Aurea Maculata’ is a male cultivar with small leaves that are splashed with yellow. It’s a compact, slow growing shrub and like most variegated hollies, does best in full sun.
Ilex aquifolium ‘Silver Mermaid’
Ilex x koehneana ‘Chestnut Leaf’
This unusual holly is a cross between Ilex aquifolium and Ilex latifolia. Its soft, glossy serrated leaves look very similar to those of sweet chestnut. The branches of this female variety sweep down and are loaded with late red berries, which persist on the plant for a long time. A vigorous grower, it has an attractive pyramidal shape.
Ilex aquifolium ‘Hascombensis’
This unusual male holly is a slow growing shrub with small, pointed leaves. It’s very compact, making it suitable for growing in a pot.
Ilex x altaclerensis ‘Belgica Aurea’
Ilex x altaclerensis ‘Belgica Aurea’ is another pretty, variegated holly. Its slender leaves are dark green with a yellow edge and are about 10cm in length. A female variety, it’s a fast grower.
Ilex aquifolium ‘Ferox Argentea’
Ilex aquifolium ‘Ferox Argentea’ is also known as the ‘silver hedgehog holly’, probably because it has spines on the surface of its leaves as well as the edges. It’s fairly slow growing but has a dense habit, and can be pruned to make an unusual hedge – good for security. It keeps its variegation in shade. It’s male, so doesn’t produce berries.
Ilex x altaclerensis ‘Golden King’
Ilex x altaclerensis ‘Golden King’ is one of the prettiest golden variegated hollies you can grow. It is relatively compact, with a conical shape. Despite its name, it’s a female variety and produces red berries in autumn.
Holly as an alternative to box
If your box plants have been hit by box blight or the box tree caterpillar, Ilex crenata, the box-leaved holly, can be a good alternative. This compact evergreen has tiny, serrated leaves and can be clipped into shapes.