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Any of the shrubs and trees of the genus Ilex, in the family Aquifoliaceae, comprising about 400 species of red- or black-berried plants, including the popular Christmas hollies. They have alternate, simple leaves and single or clustered, small, usually greenish flowers (male and female being usually on separate plants). English holly (I. aquifolium), a tree growing to 15 m (nearly 50 feet) tall, bears shining, spiny, dark, evergreen leaves and usually red fruits. Ilex is a genus of about 400 species of flowering plants in the family Aquifoliaceae, and the only genus in that family. They are shrubs and trees from 2–25 m tall, with a wide distribution in Asia, Europe, north Africa, and North and South America. The leaves are simple, and can be either deciduous or evergreen depending on the species, and may be entire, finely toothed, or with widely-spaced, spine-tipped serrations. Hollies are mostly dioecious, with male and female flowers on different plants, with some exceptions. Pollination is mainly by bees and other insects. The fruit is a small berry, usually red when mature, with one to ten seeds.

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      27.11.2010 13:59
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      A handsome and versatile plant for every garden situation

      As we move into the winter months of the year, most people find their gardens completely devoid of colour, especially once the leaves have fallen from the trees. The number of flowering shrubs available is limited at the back end of the gardening year, so most gardeners tend to rely on evergreens and berried shrubs and trees for their winter colour. One of the best and most handsome of these berry-bearing plants is the holly, a plant nowadays often closely associated with Christmas and it's mentioned in several carols, including 'Deck the Halls' and, of course, that old favourite, 'The Holly and the Ivy'.


      History and mythology of the holly

      Common Holly, or ilex aquifolium to give it its Latin name, can be found in many British woodlands and hedgerows but, because of its ease of growth and many variations, it has also been adopted by gardeners who grow it either as a hedge or as a specimen bush, although left to its own devices, your holly bush could well develop into a tree. Mine is certainly getting there!

      Part of the appeal of the holly, I'm sure, is its long history and association with the mystical. Although now largely associated with Christmas, the Christian church simply adopted the holly into its own mythology, using the prickly holly leaves to represent Christ's crown of thorns and the berries as drops of His blood. Along with the ivy and the mistletoe, these plants originally were regarded by the pre-Christian inhabitants of Celtic Britain as sacred, it's suspected due to their evergreen habit, but there are many other folk myths associated with the holly.

      I won't bore you with the whole gamut of holly mythology but will just mention that sometimes there is more than a grain of truth rooted in some myths and no more so than with the belief that holly protects from lightning. The holly, which is also associated with Thor, the Norse god of thunder, was traditionally planted close to the house to protect from lightning strikes and recently scientists have discovered that the prickly leaves of the holly can act as mini lightning conductors, thus protecting the tree and also objects close by.


      Appearance

      The classic holly bush has glossy dark green leaves and, depending on the gender of your holly, it may have bright red berries in the winter months. These tend to be ignored by the birds at the beginning of winter, largely because the berries don't soften until there's been a hard frost. After the frost, however, and certainly in deepest winter, the birds will strip this shrub bare of its fruit.

      Although hollies are handsome trees, they're not generally regarded as show stoppers in their original form, especially the male of the species which bears no berries and has very insignificant white flowers. However, nowadays there are so many variations including those with extra prickles and variegated leaves, that gardeners are spoilt for choice when selecting a variety.


      What to buy

      There are currently some 400 cultivated species of holly sold in garden centres or from specialist nurseries and if you want your holly to bear berries, you will either need to buy a self-fertile plant or have both male and female planted reasonably close together as it's only the female which carries the berries.

      Depending on where you buy from, expect to pay approximately £8 to £10 for a well grown plant.

      Some of the more popular varieties commonly sold in Britain are 'Silver Queen' which has green and creamy white speckled leaves and bright red berries, 'Handworth Silver' with dark green leaves and creamy yellow marginated leaves, and 'Amber' which, as the name suggests, has golden yellow berries. If your preference is for very spiny leaves, your best bet would be 'Ferox', also known as the Hedgehog Holly, where the entire leaf is covered in spiny prickles. 'Ferox' is a male plant, however, so you won't get any berries at all but, by the same token, if you plant this by your garden fence, it'll help to deter even the most hardened burglar! At the other end of the prickly scale, there are even almost emasculated holly varieties which no longer have any spikes at all.


      Where to plant

      Given the mythology, perhaps it would be best to plant hollies within (lightning) striking distance of your house but the general consensus is that they make great back-of-the-border shrubs and look good planted by your garden wall or fence and, as I said before, plants with spines help deter would-be burglars and are often recommended by the police for just this purpose.


      Care and propagation

      Once planted and established, these shrubs need very little attention, especially as pruning will inevitably be done during the Christmas season when you deck your own particular halls with boughs of holly. I would recommend topping out your shrub every so often as they can soon romp away and grow into small trees, which is what mine is currently doing.

      Propagation generally takes place completely unaided by the gardener. Both my native hollies came into my garden courtesy of visiting birds but if you want to have a go yourself, it's simply a case of squishing a couple of the berries to get at the actual seed. Once planted in compost, I'd suggest leaving in a secluded area of the garden and let nature take its course.

      In conclusion

      I hope I've shown that the holly is an interesting and useful plant deserving of its place in any garden. It's incredibly hardy and so easy to grow, requiring very little in the way of care and attention and, once established, it will keep a low profile during the summer months in your garden whilst giving architectural structure to your planting scheme and reward you every winter with a show of glorious berries whilst also attracting birds into the garden for which it definitely deserves the full five stars.

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        27.11.2009 00:28
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        A Beautiful Plant That Is Dead Easy To Care For

        We've got a gorgeous holly bush in the front garden and because it's right at the front of the house we have to keep it looking nice. It's a wide but quite short bush which looks like 3 individual ones all in a row.

        The main thing with holly is that it grows quite quick so you have to prune it back. You can either do it a bit at a time but I reckon you're fighting a losing battle doing it that way, we cut ours right back twice a year and that's perfect because within a couple of weeks it's bushed back out but looks tidier.

        The lady who lived in our house before us was a brilliant gardener and she knew what she was doing. She has planted these in the spot of the front garden that is the driest and the soil around the holly bush is loose and rich. I have looked on Wiki and it says holly flourishes best in well drained soil, but the traditional red berry holly that we've got is happy in most types of earth.

        We get loads of berries on our holly bush and that attracts loads of birds into the garden, sometimes you see birds sneaking inside the holly but the leaves are so thick that I can't tell if there's a nest in there or not. It's due to be cut back soon so we'll find out then! lol

        If you've got a well looked after holly bush you'll be able to use the shiny green leaves to make Xmas decorations. My mum is quite arty like that and makes nice wreaths out of the holly from the garden, she also wraps holly round thick candles and that looks cool.

        I love the holly in our garden, it's so pretty all year round but with all the red berrie it looks wicked in the winter.

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        11.03.2008 15:06
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        a great shrub

        Holly is definatley a plant or should i say a shrub which is what it actually is that we usually asociate with christmas but that is not its only use.

        Its most comercial use is to make wreaths as christmas decorations but it is also a very nice shrub to have in your garden.

        Holly as i have already said is a shrub, they can be brought as small shrubs from garden centers for about £10 each and soon grow into a lovely shrub with a thick almost tree like trunk at the bottom and lots of smaller brances growing off.

        The most important thing about planting holly is where you plant it, it realy needs to be by a wall or a fence as it grows very tall and has a tendancy to get very battered by wind if you plant it somewhere with no protection.

        Holly doesnt need a lot of light so you can put it almost anywhere even in shaded areas by walls, my holly bush is about 11 foot tall.

        It is a realy nice plant to have in your garden as the leaves are green all year round, although very prickly and it gets red berries on it which give a lovely splash of colour to your garden, another use i have for mine is i have put it along the wall at the back of our garden, i pitty anyone who trys to climb into my garden.

        All that said though its best use has to be as a food sorce for wild birds through the winter as although the berries on the holly bush will give us a bad stomach they are actually realy good for birds.

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        21.03.2005 19:09
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        Holly

        The leaves of the Holly are sometimes used to treat rheumatism, but the berries are very poisonous.
        This bush grows freely all over the British Isles and is also found in central and southern Europe. The parts that are used for herbal remedies are the leaves berries and the bark. These are used in infusions or powdered as well as the juice being used too.

        We are all familiar to the holly bush being used at the Christmas holidays to decorate the house both inside and out, but it can also be used for some ailments.
        It is an evergreen bush or tree with glossy leaves. These are quite prickly and it has to be handled with care if you have sensitive skin. It is usually planted as a hedging between houses and can be found in woodlands and the canal banks. It flowers late spring and early summer and the berries ripen in autumn and stay on the tree in winter, which makes it a pretty decoration for Christmas.

        The leaves can be used in an infusion which is a liquid.
        Is made from the ground up bark, leaves or dried berries by pouring boiling water onto the herb and leaving for ten to twenty minutes, stirring the mixture occasionally. The liquid is then strained when cooled and used. You can buy infusions from the health shop in the form of tea bags for lots of herbal remedies. They vary from £1.40 upwards depending on what you buy.

        The Holly is given by infusion to help ease the symptoms of pleurisy and catarrh.
        It is also good for fevers as the infusion will cause sweating and can help to bring the fever down it is also good for rheumatism.
        The juice is expressed from the fresh holly leaves for the treatment of jaundice.
        The berries can also be dried and powdered to check bleeding, but it is advisable to seek the knowledge of a herbalist before thinking about taking this remedy as the powdered holly berry has different properties and are violently emetic and purgative, which means, in the lay mans terms it can induce vomiting and act as a laxative but with a more serious action than other laxatives.

        Whilst it can be useful to treat certain ailments with holly I think it is always best to find someone who knows about herbs before taking any remedy, as some herbs can be used for the same ailment but are milder and with all illness if the symptoms do not go away after a few days it is best to seek medical advice from the doctor.
        If your thinking of getting this in your garden, it does grow quite well in the shade and the sunlight, but you have to remember it cvan grow fast and tall.
        If you have small children it's deffinately one not to have in the garden as it can irritate skin if scrathed by the prickles althought it's nice to look at I prefer to leave it out of mine.

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          02.12.2003 01:15
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          Holly. Ilex aquifolium. Generally forgotten for most of the year, it's once again about to take centre stage as a symbol of Christmas, surpassed only by the jolly man in red and fir trees, real or imitation. Maybe flashing lights have also passed it on the popularity polls of late but there's no doubt that where many of our oldest traditions have long since disappeared, decorating the house with holly has survived the test of time. Being evergreen, holly's first association with Christmas was as a symbol of Christ's eternal life, the white flowers in spring were said to symbolise his immaculate conception 9 months earlier, the red berries his blood. Legend has it that the berries were originally yellow, turning red only after the crucifixion. Christmas, however, is a relatively modern celebration whereas holly is one of our oldest native plants. As far back as the first century, roman writer, Pliny, wrote that planting a holly close to the house would ward off any evil spirits that may be lurking as well as providing protection against witches. Our holly is at the bottom of the garden, about 30 feet from the house so I'm hoping it's close enough. By medieval times things had changed slightly. Rather than just protecting against any old evil spirit, holly was now said to protect specifically against house goblins. I can assure you that I've not once seen a goblin in this house (although my mum did once try to buy me a teasmade), so I can only assume that our two bushes are doing the business. At around the same time it was also considered unlucky to cut down an entire tree rather than just removing a few branches. Holly was also said to predict the coming winter weather. People once believed, and I'm sure some still do, that a heavy crop of berries predicted a long, cold winter as the berries would supply extra food to keep the birds alive. It sounds reasonable enough but we now know that th
          e amount of fruit is a result of a good summer and bears no relation to what will happen with the weather ahead. Not to worry though, regardless of whether you can predict the weather with it, a heavily laden holly is certainly a sight to behold and it's unfortunate that the introduction of mechanical hedge trimmers along with the destruction of our hedgerows has affected its availability at Christmas, pushing prices up. All isn't bleak though. The general decline in free roaming, grazing farm stock that previously destroyed young holly seedlings has meant that the numbers are again increasing. Holly bushes are one of the easiest shrubs to grow. With their dark, glossy green leaves they made superb hedges, especially as a backdrop to a colourful border. The variegated varieties make excellent specimen plants. With so many to choose from, I couldn't possibly describe them all. There are varieties with pale leaves, blotched leaves, large leaves, tiny leaves, spiny leaves and those without any spines at all. Pop along to any good garden centre at this time of the year and you'll no doubt find a decent selection on offer. Hollies are slow growing shrubs. A 40cm example (a common size when sold) will take about 8 years to reach a height of 1.5 metres. In other words, although they made lovely hedges, if you're in a hurry, this isn't the plant for you. As a specimen it's perfect as it isn't anywhere even close to rampant so won't grow out of control and if you're able to let it develop into a dense bush, it'll provide a safe nesting site for a variety of birds. The big drawback with holly is the need for two plants if you're to get berries on one. One must be female, the berry bearing plant, the other male. We have ours planted together in the far corner of the garden by a mature field maple. There's plenty of room for them there, one's variegated, the other dark green, and I thi
          nk they look lovely, with or without berries. If you're lucky enough to have a large garden, you can always tuck the male away out of sight behind the shed or garage, along with the composter, bins and other necessities that you'd rather not display. If you're happy to grow two hollies, or happen to know that there's definitely a male growing close by, you'll find these extremely hardly shrubs a doddle to grow. While they prefer good, well drained soil, they'll tolerate just about any toil and position; full sun or shade, windy or sheltered, sandy or clay. They're even happy growing in seaside gardens. Pruning isn't necessary other than to remove sprigs for Christmas decoration or to maintain a particular shape or size. A good going over with a pair of secateurs after fruiting is all that's needed to keep a small bush looking tidy, larger specimens can be clipped with shears. Left alone they'll reach a height of 12 metres (40 feet), and look magnificent. Don't worry though, it really is easy to control. I think I'll wait another couple of weeks before bringing any holly into the house for Christmas but in the meantime I'm crossing my fingers that our bushes will continue to keep the goblins away. ~~+~~+~~

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            20.07.2001 16:18
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            Most people are familiar with the holly as a christmas decoration - shiny green leaves, red berries. It's also good as a garden plant. Holly as a hedge - if pruned regularly, Holly make an excellent, thick and impenetrable hedge that will keep anything out. The prickly leaves will put off any would be human visitors, but small birds and mamals will scurry through. By having a number of trees in a headge you stand a good chance of getting berries on at least some of them. Holly is evergreen, so even in Winter it wil add a bit of colour to your garden. Holly as a tree. You don't see holly trees that often as people tend to keep them pruned down to bush size. However, they are capable of becoming quite large and impressive. Holly trees grow slowly so there is little risk of the plant suddenly getting out of control. Holly trees are very attractive in shape, and tend to produce berries higher up, so that you can't get at them! Using Holly. If you are lucky and have a female tree with a male nearby, you will get berries. Picked, branches of berry laden holly make an attractive winter decoration and they do keep quite well in the house. Bear in mind that holly is not good for eating - make sure small children are not tempted by the nice red berries as at the very least they will end up with hurting and poorly tums. (I would recomend contacting a doctor in cases of consumtion, just to be on the safe side.) Also be aware the the prickly holly can be quite unpleasant and scratchy and is not good for handling. (Again, small children beware.) Don't rob your tree of all it's berries - for a start cutting half the branched off in the middle of winter is not going to do the plant any good, and it is nice to leave something for the birds. There isn't a section for mistletoe, but as I've mostly been talking about the decorative nature of Holly I thought I would mention this other Christmas favourite. Mistletoe grows on
            other trees, as a parasite. Fruit trees are best. if you want to have a go, keep back some of the berries. make a small incision into the bark, squash the berry in. Adter that, it's just down to luck. It isn't easy getting misteltoe to take. if you do get some, never pick all of it or you will find you have to start again. Also, do not eat the berries on this one, it's also poisonous. I think natural decorations are so much nicer than plastic shop bought stuff at Christmas. However, it's better to grow your own than to go plundering the woodlands.

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              11.01.2001 01:42
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              I can legitimately use sex as an introduction to the holly family. If you think that’s just a headline-grabber, read on and I will justify. (Okay, maybe it is . . .) But so many people come to me with the question, “Why does my holly never produce berries?”. And the answer is sex. There are male hollies and female hollies. Male hollies produce flowers with pollen, with the potential to fertilise female hollies. (Sorry if I’m being too graphic. Gets a bit close to the bone sometimes, this gardening/nature thing.). Female hollies also produce flowers, with the potential to be fertilised by the pollen from male hollies. You know what’s coming next, don’t you? If you want berries, you need two hollies, a male and a female, and preferably a few obliging insects to do the dirty deed. But as we all know, insects cover a lot of ground. Like, they will cover the ground between you and your neighbour. So if you have a town garden, the chances are someone else’s holly will fertilise yours. If it’s female. Otherwise you will always be the provider. Simple so far? Now it gets better. How do you know if your holly is male or female? With the common holly (Ilex aquifolium), you don’t. Botanists with microscopes and cutting edge technology struggle. Until the plant is old enough to bear flowers and/or fruits. But that’s a bit late to be finding out. If you want to go for the common holly – which I strongly recommend because it’s native, and therefore of much more use to numerous wee beasties – buy half a dozen or so. C’mon, they’re not that expensive (and if they are you’re shopping at the wrong place!), and if you plant several together, by the law of averages you’ll get a mix of sexes. If you want to be sure, though, you can buy named variegated varieties. BUT – if I’ve confused you so far, prepare to be bamboozled. A reliable fema
              le holly is the variety “Golden King”. A reliable male holly is the variety “Silver Queen”. Just don’t ask, okay? Trust, accept. But help is at hand. For we have on the market a hermaphrodite (and not in any way genetically modified, I assure you). If you have room for only one holly, look in your Garden Centre for Ilex aquifolium Pyramidalis. This is an upright pyramid-shaped shrub, and in my experience it bears berries very early in life, even when it’s still in the pot on the Garden Centre shelf. It needs no pollinator. It does the business by itself. PS Before anyone else corrects me, let me correct myself. I’ve just checked my RHS plant bible, and it’s not a hermaphrodite at all. It is a female. But self fertile. This worries me – it could catch on.

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