People are often surprised that Winterberry Holly, or Ilex verticillata, is a holly at all, because it doesn’t have the glossy, spiky leaves that you think of when you hear the name Holly. And unlike the traditional Holly (Ilex meserveae cvs), it loses its leaves in the winter, which also seems foreign to “Holly”. While this is often seen as a bad characteristic, in this case it is when Winterberry shines, as the female plants are covered from head to toe in bright red berries. A hedge of Winterberry Holly can be a real showstopper in the snow, and the berries persist a long time- or, at least, until the birds are done with them or you have picked them for holiday decorations!
‘Red Sprite’ Winterberry grows to be about 3-4’ x 3-4’ and us very compact. It is hardy to Zone 3, so will tolerate some pretty cold conditions. ‘Sparkleberry’ is similar, but is bigger, at 8-10’ x 8-10’. Both plants will produce more berries if a male is somewhere in the vicinity, so get a ‘Southern Gentleman’ or a ‘Jim Dandy’ and stick it somewhere inconspicuous, as there are no berries and the flowers are inconsequential.
Winterberries prefer full sun to part shade and can be used in wetland areas as well in places with normal amounts of moisture. They won’t do as well in very dry conditions, although I have been surprised before.
Try some! They will make you happy when the landscape begins to look a little forlorn.
Happy New Year to everyone! I hope that this finds you all in good health and that the holiday season has treated you well. Here in Northern New England, the weather has been weird, to say the least. Two measurable snowstorms in November, followed by a month of rain, has left everything covered in slime, including people’s spirits as we try to avoid getting weather whiplash. What I think I know for sure, though, is that the weather this winter will undoubtedly result in our staying inside quite a bit. So what’s a gardener to do, besides look longingly out of the window and dream of flowers and mulch and fresh vegetables?
Luckily for us, the seed catalogues will come soon, to add some amount of reality to our daydreaming. But if that’s not enough, there are some wonderful escapist videos out there. Here are a few of my favorites. They are available on Netflix or Amazon Prime (as specified), but are probably also available on other platforms.
Currently on Netflix:
Big Dreams, Small Spaces.
This is a series of garden transformations, hosted by the impeccable Monty Don. Don is an English gardener and presenter who is probably one of the most well known tv personalities in the UK. In this series, he oversees gardens that are transformed by their owners, or by friends for friends. It is very down-to-earth and interesting to see what can be done in small gardens.
If garden history and virtual garden touring is more to your taste, try Monty Don’s French Gardens and Monty Don’s Italian Gardens. Yes, Monty Don again. He is very prolific!
For a show with instant gratification, try Love Your Garden, hosted by Alan Titchmarsh. Second only perhaps toMonty Don in the Garden Presenter Hall of Fame, Titchmarsh chooses people whose gardens have gone to rack and ruin for one reason or another and swoops in to create a new garden for them, almost overnight.
Available on Amazon Prime, but not on Netflix at this time, are other beauties:
Great Gardens of England brings you on a tour of National Trust Properties.
The Secret History of the British Garden (Monty Don again!) is a wonderful historical series with lots of eye candy.
For something closer to home, try The Gardener, a documentary about Henry Cabot’s Les Quatres Vents, in Quebec. It’s a fascinating look at an intriguing garden!
This Beautiful Fantastic, while not a documentary, is a wonderful escapist film about unlikely characters bonding over a garden.
And somewhere out there Audrey Hepburn has a series on gardens, but try as I might I can’t find it again. But if you can find it, watch it. Or any other Audrey Hepburn film, really.
There! By the time you have gotten through all those, it’ll be spring, and you’ll be absolutely bursting with ideas for your garden. Do you have any favorites? Please share any others I have missed- there are so many good videos out there!
Many of us struggle with what to do with our holiday Poinsettias after the holidays are over. They are still alive, but what happens next? We have heard that bringing them back to their former glory next year is really hard, but we hate to throw them away…
Dr. Leonard Perry, of the University of Vermont, has written a great how-to guide, which I will share with you here. In it, he uses holidays and well known dates as markers for when to do things, and explains in simple terms how they need to be done. We tried it a couple of years ago and it worked like a charm.
It’s the holidays again, and a few of you may have gardeners on your holiday shopping list that you still need to buy for. (Or maybe you are that gardener, in which case feel free to share this post with someone who might need some help – I won’t tell!) I thought I’d share a few of my favorite things in case it helps make the decisions easier…
There are a few tools that I would never want to be without, and I’ll bet the gardener in your life will love them too. (And by the way, no one is paying me to recommend these items, nor am I getting a commission. They are just my favorites.)
-A soil knife, by A.M. Leonard. This implement brings to mind the scene in Crocodile Dundee when he says, “That’s not a knoife… THIS is a knoife!” This “knoife” is so much more, though. Yes, it makes opening bags of soil a snap, and cuts through twine like butter, and makes you feel quite unstoppable, but it also can be used as a trowel in a pinch, and has handy measurements built into the blade. Get the sheath, too. Your back pocket will thank you. To order one, click here.
-A set of Felcos. These pruners are rugged, well made, and you can replace most of the parts when they wear out, making them an incredibly good value. There are several sizes, so read the description when ordering. Or, better yet, buy them from your local garden center who can help you. Don’t fret about choosing the wrong ones, though, because even the “wrong” size is better than most pruners. They make leftie versions, too. Click here for a link to the basic sized ones.
-A Cape Cod Weeder. This tool looks so simple, but it is absolutely the best thing for digging out weeds. When the blade is run just under the soil’s surface, it shears the weeds off at the roots so all you have to do is wipe them away. And the sharp point is incredible if you hook it under a dandelion root or a Ranunculus knot and tug. It’s a small instrument, but it’s got GUTS. There is also a version made for lefties. I recommend spraying the handle red at some point because it comes in a natural wood color and can easily get misplaced. For a link, click here.
You may have noticed that all these things come from A.M. Leonard. I’m sure they are available from other places, too. But I have always had a great experience with A.M. Leonard.
There’s nothing like a beautiful gardening magazine to get a gardener’s juices flowing, so I am listing my favorites here. They also have the added benefit of being great last minute gifts. And they last all year! So, without further ado…
Garden Gate Magazine. This comes out six times a year, and is a great magazine for beginners and seasoned gardeners alike. It has lots of design ideas, clearly presented.
The English Garden. While all the recommendations may not pertain to us in the Northeast, most will, and even so, the pictures are so beautiful you will forgive them.
Garden Design Magazine. This magazine probably isn’t for the absolute beginner, as it is very design-centric. I keep every issue as they are beautiful and inspirational and it would seem a sin to throw them away.
Another great last-minute item, memberships often offer not only a great magazine but also programs, events, and other educational opportunities. Some of them have reciprocal garden privileges around the world, too.
New England Wildflower Society. I have been a member here for many years and got my Certificate in Native Plant Horticulture and Design through them. As well as a fantastic flagship garden called Garden in the Woods, they sell native plants, offer many educational opportunities both onsite and through the internet, and have a wonderful plant database called Go Botany. They are extremely knowledgeable and are on the forefront of native issues and a membership is a great gift to anyone interested in natives.
The Wild Seed Project. This membership is worth it for the publication alone. It comes out once a year and is filled with great articles about native plants.
You used to see branches of Bittersweet, or Celastrus orbiculatus, for sale all over the place at this time of year. Thankfully, this has mostly stopped, because this invasive thug has been squeezing the life out of our more sedate plants, trees, and shrubs, and the use of its berries in holiday arrangements has made the problem infinitely worse. I know of a local museum that has suddenly had Bittersweet mysteriously growing in a place where it never had grown before – mysterious until someone was discovered throwing out holiday decorations containing Bittersweet berries in that general vicinity.
The berries are lovely, there is no doubt about it. But if you have ever seen a Pine tree with a rope of Bittersweet cutting deep into its bark, or a shrub bed completely suffocated by its voluminous growth, then I think you will agree that it’s time to think of an alternative.
Luckily, We have choices. One such choice is Ilex verticillata, or Winterberry Holly. A deciduous holly, it is smothered in red berries all winter long. You need a male and a female in order to get berries, but one male will pollinate females that are quite a distance away so if your neighbor has one growing in their garden, for example, you don’t need one yourself. The males have wonderful names like “Jim Dandy”, or “Southern Gentleman” and grow 6-8 feet tall, where the females can range from the 8-10 foot tall “Sparkleberry” to 3-4 foot tall “Red Sprite”.
If you’re still missing the orange color of Bittersweet, there’s an orange-berried Winterberry called “Winter Gold” that will scratch that itch for you.
Winterberries are a bit boring in the summer, with small, unremarkable flowers, but that’s ok. They are a nice backdrop for other plants, and they more than make up for it in the winter. And they don’t take over and strangle the good guys.
Holly is a quintessential December plant. It is hung about the house at Christmas time, and is steeped in religious tradition. The Druids believed that Holly stayed green in the winter and had red berries so as to keep the world looking beautiful when the Oak was without leaves. (Many a landscape designer has had that same thought, too.) Holly has been thought to keep away lightning, frighten off witches, and keep goblins away from little girls. Some say it brings about sweet dreams, and others say you can use it to make a tincture to get rid of a cough, although from what I have read, ingesting holly would only relieve a cough by giving you something much worse to worry about, so best leave holly out of any cold remedy.
The Holly pictured above has the typical holly look: shiny, prickly evergreen leaves, and lustrous red berries. You need both a male and a female holly plant in order to get berries, which appear only on the female. Some grow to be 15-20 feet tall like Ilex aquipernyi ‘Dragon Lady’ while others are considerably shorter. Some are pyramidal in shape, some are tall and very thin, while others are rounded. If prickly leaves aren’t for you, Ilex glabra, or Inkberry Holly, has rounded leaves a lot like Boxwood, and is a decent substitute if you don’t like Boxwood’s smell. If bare branches covered with berries is more your style, Ilex verticillata, or Winterberry Holly, is a deciduous version that looks fantastic in the winter. All hollies like full sun to part shade, and moist, well drained soil.
Plant one or two to keep away the elements, witches, bad dreams or to just keep the world looking beautiful in the winter, it’s up to you. There’s a holly for everyone. All you have to do is find the one that makes you happy.
It’s starting to get colder, and soon the snow will start to fall. This is great for the plants, as snow is an excellent insulator. But what if it doesn’t snow? What if it’s just really cold for awhile, first? Straight – up cold can be devastating for perennials, especially tender ones that are at the limit of their cold hardiness, or new ones that got planted late.
What to do? Well, it’s better to hedge your bets and give your most precious plants some protection than just hope that there will be snow. This doesn’t mean anything too complicated – just cover the crowns of the plants with salt-marsh hay, or evergreen tree boughs. (You can supplement these later with boughs cut off your Christmas tree, if you have one.)
Roses can also benefit from a little cover. Plastic fencing or chicken-wire, wrapped around them, and stuffed with leaves works well. You can also buy things made especially for roses, but then you have to figure out where to store them the rest of the year. But in the end, it’s up to you. Anything you can do to help the plants will be greatly appreciated by them, and they will reward you in kind in the summer.