The Holly and the Ivy - Festive evergreens and berries

Just as we had a cold late spring, we have had a later and milder autumn; leaves have hung on trees and many flowers have lasted well into November. But as they fall away the landscape gradually opens up to reveal beautiful defining silhouettes. Glossy evergreens are the perfect foil to this drab time of year and add a cheery note to the garden, particularly if they bear berries too.

If you are lucky enough to have holly in your garden, you will know how the vivid scarlet berries not only brighten up the garden but entice the birds too; there is often a race to pick that sprig for the Christmas pudding before visiting birds eat the lot!

The prickly, shiny dark leaves of Ilex aquifolium ‘Alaska’ clips well into topiary shapes and can be useful for adding emphasis to a focal point. Varigated varieties such as Ilex aquifolium ‘Argenta Marginata’, are really pretty and light. This one, particularly, has a crisp cream edge and grows in time into a pyramidal shape, but a less spiky plant is Ilex x altarclernsis ‘Golden King’ with its smooth round leaves and warm golden edging.

If you are wanting something a little different but don’t want to lose the flashes of red in the garden, then why not try Cotoneaster frigidus ‘Cornubia’ which hangs on to its berries and seems to be unpalatable to birds, unless there is a really hard winter, or Malus x robusta ‘Red Sentinal’; this crab apple is scab resistant and produces masses of fruit that last well into December, with an added bonus of frothy white blossom in May. If you haven’t yet pruned rambling roses, then the plump orangery-red hips on spidery stems are really eye-catching and a great addition to a Christmas wreath.

Not all berries and fruits have to be red, and Ivy, often a misunderstood plant, is a perfect example. Often thought to strangle trees, it actually doesn’t harm them at all and supports lots of wildlife over the sparse winter months. Clusters of yellow flowers appear on mature plants from September and ripen to dark black berries from November.

So Merry Christmas and enjoy your winter garden with all its fruits and berries, both for yourself and the wildlife around you.

Originally published in Focus magazine

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