Home for the holly days; 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 (but the ivy's pretty cool too).
YOU'VE probably come across plenty of holly, ivy, mistletoe and Christmas roses during the last few weeks, if not tangibly then at least on the front of cards and all the paraphernalia that accompanies the festive season.
It's a given that these are the plants of the season but what a lovely idea it is to be able to grow them in our own gardens and to have the closest of links with them by cultivating them ourselves.
With the exception of then Christmas rose, helleborus niger, in Northern climes, mankind's association with these plants goes far back beyond the introduction of Christianity and many of the customs, emblems and tokens associated with Christmas have been part of our culture for millennia.
y In pagan times our ancestors would have been much more aware of the natural world - they had to be. Weather and the changing of the seasons were vital. It was a question of survival.
" d "Of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown." Holly is a magic tree, long revered as the protector and the bringer of hope.
All evergreens were once valued as providing a living link between one year and the next, proof that the drear, bleak cold of winter would not last for ever, that despite bare branches and bleak ground all around, nature's life-blood still ran through the holly's veins.
s Though holly boughs were brought indoors to decorate homes long before Christmas was celebrated on our islands, to cut down a holly tree to the ground was to invite bad luck. The holly tree was often used as a signpost, a reference point, even now, when hedges have been flailed to pieces, the holly trees that stand along their length are left.
Hollies not only helped and protected human beings, but offered (and still do), protection to sapling trees, which in many cases outgrow their former protector. In the countryside, you'll often see a holly tree growing branch in branch with an oak, a beech or a hawthorn.
nch You can plant yours where you want. If you want berries on your tree it will need to be female and it'll need a male partner. Confusingly 'Kings' tend to be female and 'Queens' male. Fortunately a few are both. If you've only space for one tree, try a self-fertile variety.
Ivy is another plant associated with Christmas. Our ancestors appreciated the rich, green gloss of ivy leaves and the way in which it began to flower when all around was finishing.
Nowadays some people are scared of ivy rather than regarding it as a friend. They feel it will rip their masonry asunder whereas, provided walls and mortar are initially sound, ivy on their surface is more likely to protect them from extremes of temperature.
aaTha Ivy clings to trees or walls by adventitious roots - little roots along the surface of its stems. They're produced when it starts to ascend and it is only at this stage too that it begins to produce its flowers and therefore its berries.
tfl nit swst I'm forever extolling our own native ivy, hedera helix, because of its importance to wildlife. It offers shelter to mammals and insects while it's at its creeping-around stage, but when it climbs, becoming thick and dense, it makes a superb hiding place for birds to build their nests.
hn bpr Two of our best-loved birds, the blackbird and the wren, are particularly fond of taking up residence among its packed stems.
Its starburst flowers are full of pollen and nectar enjoyed not only by late-flying bees and hoverflies but also by autumn hatched butterflies too. Tortoiseshells and pbbb p peacocks are often late on the wing.
When the flowers are transformed into berries the birds take over.
in Thf There is ivy growing up several fences and a few of the trees in the oldest boundary of our garden.
o Climbing up an obelisk, ivy makes memorable winter feature.
a fr le gy There are hundreds of varieties from which to choose, goldenleaves like h.h. 'Sunrise' or variegated varieties such as 'Glacier' if you want to light up a dark corner.
They are not all vigorous so if space is limited go for one of the smaller varieties or keep a collection with different forms and foliage colours - ideal for a balcony or even a window-box.
Ivy flowers on a frosty morning
Holly berries, the perfect festive image