Gardening tips for December

National Tree Week: 24th November – 2nd December 2018

First mounted in 1975, National Tree Week is the UK’s largest tree celebration annually launching the start of the winter tree planting season. Run by the Tree Council, the UK’s leading charity for trees, it is a great chance for communities to do something positive for their local treescape. Each year, Tree Council member organisations such as voluntary bodies and local authorities, up to 200 schools and community groups and many others, support the initiative by setting up fun, worthwhile and accessible events, inspiring upward of a quarter of a million people to get their hands dirty and together plant around a million trees. Therefore, if you want to get into the spirit of things, why not choose National Tree Week as the time to plant a tree in your own garden, or why not join in with one of the organized events in your area?

Ilex aquifolium, ‘Alaska’

Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly!

With Christmas almost upon us, many people will be putting up decorations and generally trying to make home feel a little more festive. The conditions this year have made it a fantastic season for most fruit, including the berries on trees and especially on holly.

Holly has long been associated with mid-winter festivals; it was a tree of great importance in pagan times, and later adopted by Christian tradition for decorating homes at Christmas time, the Holly is one of the true winter stars of our native woodlands. The dense, evergreen foliage provides shelter and habitat for a wealth of wildlife, the bright red berries are a valuable food source for many birds and, if regularly clipped, Holly also makes an attractive hedge for privacy and security. Naturally growing as an understory woodland plant, Holly is easily one of the best options for hedging in moderately dry shade, such as under established trees. Holly is quite slow growing, and it will of course grow even more slowly in low light levels, and will need regular watering, and possibly even some supplementary feeding until fully established, but with regular clipping will maintain good density in these conditions far better than most other hedging options. Holly usually likes a fairly rich soil, which helps to prevent soils under established trees from drying out too quickly but, like all woody evergreens, it won’t tolerate waterlogged soils for long. Popular variegated varieties include ‘Golden King’ and ‘Handsworth New Silver’, both of which are female and therefore need one or more male holly plants within easy flying distance for bees and other pollinators to produce berries – if you have self-seeded holly within a nearby hedge or woodland you won’t need to worry about this, but otherwise it may be worth planting one more male plants, such as ‘Silver Queen’ which, despite the name is actually a male plant. A self-fertile holly called ‘J C van Tol’ is often lauded as the solution to reliable berry production, and up to a point this works, but I have to say that I don’t find it to be a particularly exciting holly aesthetically and, since it isn’t as prickly as many others, really isn’t that good an option for security planting either. However, for the ultimate in Christmassy-looking holly plants my favourite is ‘Alaska’. It has glossy dark green leaves, which are fairly small but very prickly (so ideal for security!), blood red berries, very hardy, tougher even in low temperatures than our native wild holly, dense for hedging, easy to clip, statuesque as an individual specimen, and ideal for making holly wreaths. Making a holly wreath is easy, quick, and inexpensive as long as you have access to some free holly (please don’t start cutting it off neighbours’ hedges without permission), and the bulk of the one on my door will be made from ‘Alaska’ although, with such bright red berries, I’m not sure how long these berries will last on the wreath before they attract the birds for a quick snack