Although this could very well be a picture of me finding a new treasure at a favorite nursery, it's actually an illustration by David Catrow for a children's book called Plantzilla.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Holly (Ilex) for Foliage Follow Up

Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
Thou art not so unkind
As man's ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because thou art not seen,
Although thy breath be rude.
Heigh ho, sing heigh ho, unto the green holly;
most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:
Then, heigh ho, the holly!  This life is most jolly.

Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky,
That dost not bite so nigh
As benefits forgot:
Though thou the waters warp,
Thy sting is not so sharp  As friend remember'd not.
Heigh ho, sing heigh ho, unto the green holly:
most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:
Then, heigh ho, the holly!  This life is most jolly.

 William Shakespeare

O reader! hast thou ever stood to see
The Holly-tree?
The eye that contemplates it well perceives
Its glossy leaves
Ordered by an Intelligence so wise
As might confound the Atheist's sophistries.

Below, a circling fence, its leaves are seen,
Wrinkled and keen;

No grazing cattle, through their prickly round,
Can reach to wound;
But, as they grow where nothing is to fear,
Smooth and unarmed the pointless leaves appear.

I love to view these things with curious eyes,
And moralize;
And in this wisdom of the Holly-tree
Can emblem see
Wherewith, perchance, to make a pleasant rhyme, -
One which may profit in the after-time.

Thus, though abroad, perchance, I might appear
Harsh and austere;
To those who on my leisure would intrude,
Reserved and rude;
Gentle at home amid my friends I'd be,
Like the high leaves upon the Holly-tree.

And should my youth - as youth is apt, I know, -
Some harshness show,
All vain asperities I, day by day,
Would wear away,
Till the smooth temper of my age should be
Like the high leaves upon the Holly-tree.

And as, when all the summer trees are seen
So bright and green,
The Holly-leaves their fadeless hues display
Less bright than they;
But when the bare and wintry woods we see,
What then so cheerful as the Holly-tree? -

So, serious should my youth appear among
The thoughtless throng;
So would I seem, amid the young and gay,
More grave than they;
That in my age as cheerful I might be
As the green winter of the Holly-tree. 

Robert Southey

The holly and the Ivy,
When they are both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown. 

In ancient times, holly was considered 
magical and sacred because of its shiny leaves 
and ability to bear fruit in winter. 

The Druids believed that holly, 
with its shiny leaves and red berries 
stayed green to keep the earth beautiful 
when the sacred oak lost it leaves. 
It was believed that if you hung holly 
over your bed, you would have good dreams. 
At one time, holly was connected to the 
mythical Holly King - patron king of the winter 
solstice.  As the Winter Solstice Festivals 
evolved, holly remained a part of the 
holiday celebrations. 

Holly was the sacred plant of  Saturn 
and was used at the Roman Saturnalia festival to 
honor him. 
 Romans gave one another holly wreaths and carried 
them about decorating images of Saturn with it. 

Centuries later, in December, 
 while other Romans continued their pagan worship, 
Christians celebrated the birth of Jesus. 
 To avoid persecution, they decked their homes with 
Saturnalia holly. 

As Christian numbers increased and their customs 
prevailed, holly lost its pagan association 
and became a symbol of Christmas. 

It's pretty weedy here but it makes a great hedge and has those beautiful red berries in the winter.

I'm joining with Pam at Digging who hosts Foliage Follow Up every month on the day after bloom day to remind us of the importance of foliage in our gardens.


  1. Have a holly jolly Christmas, Peter! I enjoyed your holly history lesson. It really is a beautiful plant and worthy of poems and festivals.

    1. I wish you the same, Pam! The birds tend to plant it a lot around here and since it's not native folks aren't fond of it. It doesn't seem to be the menace that hedera helix is though.

  2. I'm singing the Holly and the Ivy now. Lovely and unique tribute there Peter!

    1. Isn't that a fun song? Glad that the post made you sing it!

  3. That Shakespeare poem suits our recent weather well. I don't have any holly growing here. Although it has similarities, I don't think Mahonia counts. Great shots of your variegated one.

    1. Thank goodness that we've had some nice relatively calm days lately!

  4. We used to have an inherited holly (no idea which one) in the back garden, roughly where the shade pavilion is now. I'd cut branches and bring them in for the holidays. I thought I'd miss it when we took it out, but the fact I haven't once thought of it until now says differently. If it were as pretty as your variegated plant I might feel differently.

    1. I don't notice the one on the back fence until this time of year when it is still green, blocks the view of a neighbor's house and has bright red berries on it. The variegated one was bought recently to plant in an area between the sidewalk and our fence where a person seems to have nested a couple of times. (bed of tetrapanax leaves covered with cardboard from the recycling bins in the alley) I'm thinking that the holly will fill the space beautifully and also make the space seem a bit less appealing in which to recline. I thought first of opuntia for the space but it's a bit too shady there.

  5. Interesting historical factoids regarding the Holly and its connection to winter celebrations. I'll keep this in mind next time I "borrow" a branch from my neighbor's Holly. Your variegated verity is beautiful: does it also fruit?

    1. It was a quick way to make up a post. The variegated variety is new to me this year but had a few berries on it when I purchased it so it must be female. We've many male and female hollies in the neighborhood so this one is bound to fruit next year.

  6. Methinks that Willy the Shake has lost all his mirth: "most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly." If only he could see your varieg holly, I think it'd cheer him up.

    1. Bill always seems to get a bit down at this time of the year. Methinks it were seasonal affective disorder.

  7. Who knew?!? Those were sure beautiful photos, by the way. Merry Christmas!

  8. The birds have graced us with numerous hollies, but none so lovely as the one you show. THAT one actually deserves to be feted in songs and poetry.

  9. Love it! Holly really symbolizes the season. Your photos are beautiful and the verses set the mood. Thanks. You made my evening. :)

  10. I'm neighbors cut down their huge Holly, I'm going to miss the Waxwings that always come for the berries ….stupid neighbors!

  11. We have lots of native holly in the hedges here, all courtesy of the birds I think, only a few have berries. I have planted two variegated ones, but no berries yet on those. I haven't seen Will's poem before, you learn something new everyday!


Thanks so much for taking the time to comment! I love to hear your thoughts.