Who knew they were this pretty? (Be sure to click through to the larger version.) I have to admit, I don't usually pay much attention to the Holly Blooms when they arrive in mid-spring, and generally just make a mental note along the lines of, oh, we'll have lots of berries this fall, and pretty much leave it at that. We've both tried a few macro shots in the past, but never have had much luck ... until the arrival of the S700 this year. Last week Fernymoss took another stab at shooting up close and hit pay dirt this time (so to speak). I never imagined they were so pretty --and inviting to insects-- but here they are! Quite lovely, I think ... and I'll pay closer attention to them in the future for sure. I think a lot of gardeners who grow 'Blue Princess' Holly (Ilex meserveae) probably pay much more attention to the brilliant red fall berries than the spring flowers. We've certainly been guilty of that offense! So here's my argument for getting up closer and really appreciating what they're doing to reward us with those lovely berries in the fall (which in our garden do seem to serve as a food source for certain winter birds) to brighten our Holiday decorations (though we hardly cut much at that time, mostly just leggy looking branches).
If you've been wanting to grow Holly and haven't yet tried it, a few words of advice: avoid direct sun and plant it in a nicely organic loam, not super rich, nor poor or rocky, where they will stay moderately moist in the hottest months of the summer, and you should be able to keep them happy. We have three bushes planted in our Woodland Garden on the north side (2 females and 1 male) where they get a few hours of indirect east and west sun during the day. Just bright enough that they can grow vigorously, but not intense enough to toast them in the sun. It also helps to make sure you have at least one male and female plant (they're usually identified as 'Blue Prince' or 'Blue Princess' at garden centers) planted not too far away if you want to have berries in the fall/winter. Though I've heard of self-pollinating varieties, I know nothing about them or whether they really can pollinate themselves. When we put these in (in Spring, 1999), the only options were to buy both male and female plants to achieve pollination, thus berries. Once you've got your hollies all planted and situated, be prepared to be very patient, because they are initially very slow growers and may spend the first couple of years looking like they've barely grown at all. This is actually a bit of a mixed blessing, because Holly can grow very tall (up to 10-12 feet at maturity!) and they're a lot easier to manage while they stay relatively small and compact. I'd guess that over the nine years they've been in our garden, they have put on perhaps about 3 feet, (they were about a foot tall when planted), and though they've lost some branches the last couple of winters, due to ice storms and heavy snows. Other than that, they've been really tough troopers in the shade garden and continue to reward us all year round with their evergreen interest and attractive berries.
I can't emphasize enough how much they will suffer in direct sun. My sister has been trying to grow one for years (longer than us) and it continues to struggle because of its position, at the edge of her garden (though under a small maple) in a full Southern exposure. I just told her (again) last weekend that it's getting cooked and wants more shade because it looks "toasty" and never produces berries. It's a good thing she doesn't read this blog, because I think the only solution for her is to buy a male and female and plant them in full shade all over again ... Yeah, that's harsh, but sometimes my didactic side comes out strongly about certain plants. At least I finally got her to quit planting Bleeding Hearts in full sun and move them to shade ... now she raves about how well they do! I'm really happy for her on that one ... now if I could convince her about the Holly, lol.
One minor quibble with the Missouri Botanical Garden link above: they say full sun to part shade, to which I say, with our fiercely hot summers, full sun is out of the question if you want them to do well. Maybe it's just the soil where we have them, but the few morning and afternoon hours of indirect sun seem to suit them quite well.