I OFTEN find that suggesting holly as a garden plant is something of a hard sell, writes TOM ATTWOOD. I do understand the initial thought that would take most people to a spikey, dark green mass that undoubtedly has it’s uses but you wouldn’t describe as a thing of beauty. The important thing to bear in mind is that holly, like so many plants, especially shrubs, is extremely varied, hardy, and has so many of the attributes gardeners are always after; it’s evergreen, many produce berries and subtle but dainty flowers. The soil you plant into doesn’t need to be overly fantastic if you’re not blessed with a good depth, just avoid the wettest conditions as you’ll get disappointing results.

The other great feature of holly is that it can be pruned to any shape, hedge or form. Not all hollies are spikey (which I can understand puts people off) many have skin friendly smooth rounded edges. Their colours range from a rich dark green of our native holly Ilex aquifolium through to the silver streaked leaves of varieties such as Ilex Silver Queen to the golden markings of varieties, including one to keep an eye out for, Ilex Golden King. It reliably produces reddish orange berries. It is one of the best for shaping and has been grown in UK gardens for more than 100 years.

Hollies are not the fastest growing plants and this is why larger mature specimens are expensive. As with most plants, if they’re hard to propagate or slow to grow this will always have a bearing on the price tag and vice versa. I’m a great believer in getting your plants to acclimatise to your site over time and working with younger less mature plants means they will adapt to your site and do so much better in the long term. There are few things that will cause a holly plant to fail but the one most common in my experience is plants being sat in prolonged saturated ground. Dry conditions they can tolerate very well but wet roots for extended periods of time is to be avoided.

Why not try growing one in a large pot or in the ground; you can shape them to your heart's content. Traditionally, holly is clipped into a whole plethora of shapes, including where a plant over several years has been trained to form a lollipop or‘standard. Alternatively, allow them to grow at their own pace, the smaller varieties have been bred to be compact but the larger varieties can make very beautiful trees in time. They are particularly effective in exposed areas where winter winds will not hold back these robust stalwarts.

Next week: when to move plants