Welcome to the Enclosed Garden of Susan Ernst. Literal as well as figurative, this blog explores the physical gardens which I cultivate, the spiritual garden within, and the intellectual garden of horticultural knowledge gathered through decades of study, observation and practice. Come and sit with me for a while. Let us together marvel at the delicate, intricate beauty of a flower.
The English Holly, Ilex
aquifolium, and the American Holly, Ilex opaca, are common symbols of Christmas
time. Images of this plant decorate greeting cards, wrapping papers, dishes,
glasses, vases and linens which we display during the holiday season. “Deck the
halls with boughs of holly” describes the ancient tradition of incorporating
the holly, with its green leaves and bright red berries, (traditional colors of
Christmas) into wreaths, garlands and centerpieces. It is said that branches of
holly were brought into the home during Roman times to celebrate the festival
of Saturnalia, which took place during the winter solstice. Many beliefs and
superstitions advocated bringing branches of holly inside to protect the home
against malevolent elves and fairies or to enable benevolent fairies to live in
the home among humans during the cold weather. Planted outside the home or
barn, holly was said to protect against lightening strikes. Modern science
confirms that the spines of the holly leaves are able to conduct electricity to
the ground, which protects the area surrounding them.
The homeowner has reason to plant hollies near the home
and around the property for their great ornamental value as well. The English
Holly, with its glossy dark green leaves, is highly ornamental year round and
the yellow, orange or red berries on female plants during the autumn and winter
months provide cheer when it is sorely needed. Birds eat the fruit, which adds
another attractive dimension. The English Holly has over 400 cultivars so there
is a variety which will fit your location and taste. Leaves are usually a dark
green but plants can be purchased which have blue-green, white variegated or
yellow variegated foliage. Stems can be green or purple. Berries are various
shades of red, orange or yellow, depending on the variety. Size can range from
a foot to fifty feet in height.
Hollies of all species need acid soil that is well
drained and rich in organic matter. They do best in partial shade but will
tolerate full sun in cooler climates. Protect them from wind which tends to
desiccate the leaves, especially during the winter months, causing them to turn
brown. Most hollies are dioecious which means they bear male and female flowers
on different plants. If you want your hollies to bear fruit, be sure to have a
male holly planted within a few hundred feet of it. One male holly plant can
produce enough pollen to fertilize up to six female plants.
Holly berries, though eaten by birds, are toxic to
humans. Bees make a reddish colored honey from the flowers, which is described
as mild, sweet and buttery in flavor. The wood of holly is extremely hard and
ivory in color. It is used for inlaid marquetry, and takes stain beautifully.
It has been used to make walking sticks, riding whips, tool, broom and brush
handles, chess pieces and piano keys.
This spring, plant a holly
somewhere on your property. The ornamental qualities will delight you and you
will have branches to bring inside each December.