Enjoy bright berries and colourful foliage
Everyone recognises a holly bush, dressed in spiny leaves and studded with blood-red berries. But although our native Ilex aquifolium is the best-known, there are 600 species in the world and not all are evergreen or hardy. Because it’s so common, our native holly has mutated, or been bred by gardeners, to create dozens of kinds with different looks to suit every taste, smaller habits and with variegated and oddly shaped leaves and even yellow berries. Among the other species, the smaller, Asian Ilex crenata is useful because of its small leaves and dense growth, making it a good substitute for box.
Some hollies drop their leaves in autumn, so the scarlet berries stand out brightly and Ilex verticillata, although not a common garden plant, can be particularly spectacular in the winter landscape. Being tolerant of a wide range of soils and conditions, the common holly can be planted in any garden as long as the soil isn’t waterlogged. All are tolerant of pruning and they can be used as a hedge. Pruning in late summer will remove young growth and reveal the ripening berries. Although they’re tolerant of shade, growing in a brighter place will result in better flowering and more berries. Most hollies produce either male or female flowers so you need to plant a male near (but not next to) a female (or many females) to get berries. Remove any green stems on variegated plants as soon as you see them.
Vibrant foliage and bright berries make a dramatic autumn effect
Hardy and easy to grow, the larger euonymus are very different to the commoner evergreen species, such as E. fortunei, grown for ground cover. Their beauty is really revealed at this time of year, when most have striking autumn colour usually accompanied by curious angular fruit capsules that split to reveal brightly-coloured seeds. Few of the 130 species are commonly available and the most common is the European native spindle tree, E. europaeus. While other species also come from the Northern Hemisphere, the most ornamental species are from China.
Most are attractive at the back of large borders, with solidago, rudbeckias or Japanese anemones or dahlias in front, or they make attractive specimen plants in grass or at the front of shrub borders. All are hardy and not fussy about soils: most will grow even in difficult chalky soils. To obtain the best fruit production and autumn colour, plant in full sun. Most species have a dense, twiggy habit, but some of the slender growers may need help forming a strong leader if you want to train them as small trees.