|Holly (Ilex aquifolium)|
Photo Copyright by Miss Steel
Winter is the festive season, and much of that festivity includes lots of greenery, both inside the house and out. The old cottage gardeners of England were strong proponents of evergreens because many of the those plants had particular meanings and were welcomed and honored over Christmas.
|Holly bush in the countryside|
Photo Copyright by Humphrey Bolton
|Mistletoe on a Tree|
Photo Copyright by Christine Matthews
In cottage garden lore, mistletoe is most valued. The gardeners didn't attempt to pull it away from the trees in the orchard because it causes no harm to the trunks of those fruit trees, and mistletoe was thought to bring both good luck and fertility. Hence the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe.
A Unique Parasitic Plant
Mistletoe is a unique parasitic plant that finds a foothold on trees and shrubs, especially fruit trees. It doesn't grow naturally in soil. Thanks to the birds, all it takes is the right environment for the seed to sprout, be it the crevices of trunks or simply a fallen seed onto a horizontal trunk.
|Parasitic Mistletoe on Acacia Tree |
Photo Copyright by Pauline Eccles
Mistletoe propagation involves crushing a ripened berry into a crevice of a tree trunk. Gardeners should try to place the crushed seed on the same tree variety the berry came from.
Late winter is a good time to place the crushed berries. Gardeners should be patient as it can take a few months to a year for the seed to germinate and five to seven years before it, too, offers its own berries. It will need to be kept moist.
The genus Viscum (Mistletoe) includes 70 species. The most popular is viscum album with its white berries. It's an evergreen, hardy to Zone 7.
Holly folklore suggests the plant wards against evil, and few cottage gardeners were without a couple of holly bushes in their gardens. During the festive season, branches were snipped and brought indoors to keep the goblins from causing havoc with the steaming Christmas pudding, or turning milk sour. Holly is still a common sight in English gardens and it's become a traditional addition to Christmas greenery.
|Holly in the Snow|
Photo Copyright by Stuart Wilding
Holly is probably one of the most-used of festive greenery. It has glossy deep green leaves with bright red berries in winter. It's important to pick the hardiest variety. Gardeners will need both a male and female plant in order to get those lovely red berries. The varieties Ilex x meserveae, commonly known as Blue Girl and Blue Boy are very hardy, even in Zone 3 gardens. In these colder zones it can grow to about 4', but will grow much taller in warmer climates.
Plant the holly couple in a bright, but sheltered location. It likes a rich soil, a little on the acidic side, so if the gardener has old evergreens on the property, planting them in a nearby location may solve this. Give the hollies lots of water but the soil must be well drained.
Holly is perfect in a mixed shrub border, and is most often planted as a hedge. The prickly leaves make a good barrier to unwanted animals.
In the early pagan feasts of winter solstice, evergreens played a role in the festivities. As Christianity slowly replaced paganism, many of the old ways remained. During the 17th century Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas celebrations in England, but many country folk defied him and brought the holly and mistletoe indoors. These may be the two best traditional plants for winter gardens.
|Mistletoe Hung for Christmas in Stamford, Lincolnshire, UK|
Photo Copyright by Richard Humphrey