Holly in the garden
Holly is a sapling or a large evergreen shrub, which can reach ten meters in height, native to central and southern Europe and parts of Asia; in fact, in nature it is more likely to encounter hollies of smaller dimensions, around 3-5 m in height, structured like globular shrubs, with a pyramidal crown and one or more main stems. The botanical name is Ilex aquifolium; the foliage is dark green in color, and these shrubs have a particular peculiarity: the young leaves and in the lower part of the shrub are equipped with sharp thorns, which make the leaf margin wavy; the older leaves and in the upper part of the shrub instead have linear margin and have lost the thorns, and therefore are oval in shape.
The stems are very branched, creating a dense crown, the branches have smooth bark and are green or gray in color; in spring holly produces small flowers; being a dioecious plant some hollies they only have male, yellowish flowers, while others hollies they only have female flowers, white or pinkish, gathered in bunches at the leaf axil.
Only female flowers will give way to fruits: round drupes, of small size and red in color; so if we want to cultivate holly that it is full of berries, first of all it must be a female specimen, and secondly, there must necessarily be at least one male specimen nearby. Hollies have been cultivated for centuries in Europe, both as ornamental plants, but above all as auspicious plants, since in ancient times the ancient Romans used branches of this plant as propitious ornaments during the winter solstice festivities; this use has continued up to the present day, since ilex aquifolium is used to decorate houses during the Christmas period; the lively color of the foliage and red berries certainly makes this plant very pleasant, especially in the winter garden, when most of the other plants are gray and without foliage; in the woods hollies stand out only in winter, because for the rest of the year they go completely unnoticed.
Cultivation over the years has led to the creation of various hybrids and cultivars; typically in gardens it is difficult to see a holly with dark green foliage, typically the varieties with the light margin, in contrast, or with the yellowish margin, or with variegated leaves are preferred. There are also dwarf varieties, with a compact development, and varieties whose leaves keep the thorns for many years.
Holly or Ilex aquifolium is a resistant shrub, which tends to adapt well even in less than perfect cultivation conditions; it prefers well-drained, fairly sandy, slightly acidic, and rich in organic matter soils, but it also survives in alkaline and heavy soils, as long as it does not spend excessively long periods in a completely dry soil or heavily soaked with stagnant water. They are therefore positioned in a good garden soil, lightened and enriched with little manure or humus, and with universal soil. These plants develop without problems both in the sun and in the shade, although the colored leaf varieties tend to keep the foliage more brightly colored when grown in partial shade, while the green leaf varieties tend to take on a lighter color if grown in full sun. It is a completely rustic plant, which can bear minimum winter temperatures close to -15 ° C; we can therefore grow holly in the garden all year round; any very intense or late frosts can ruin the outermost branches, but the plant will recover quickly at the arrival of spring. Hollies also bear the hot summer sun, as long as they are not left in conditions of complete drought for long periods of time; even wind and pollution are not a problem for these vigorous shrubs. Young specimens need regular watering, from April until September, to be provided whenever the soil is dry; long-lived plants, on the other hand, tend to settle for rain water, but it may be necessary to water in summer, when the climate is very hot and dry, or even in spring, in case of particular drought. Hollies are very slow growing shrubs, for this reason they hardly need pruning, if not normal cleaning at the end of winter; they are also grown in pots, even if they do not like transplants, and it is therefore advisable to place them immediately in a fairly large pot, where they can remain for a few years, without requiring a repotting.