In wildlife tree of the month for December I wrote about the native holly, Ilex aquifolium - and how I was going to experiment with using holly as a Christmas tree this year. My idea is to use a containerised holly indoors, and then move it out to a large container in the garden for the rest of the year, where it can provide shelter and food for birds and insects.
So far, so good. I did a lot of research on hollies amongst our local nurseries, and some well-known national sites such as Crocus. I definitely wanted the species Ilex aquifolium, and not one of the many cultivars available (BUT – see the note below about young children!).
I found the best local value in terms of size and price was at a specialist tree and shrub nursery, Nicholson’s, in North Aston, some 20 miles north of Oxford. They had several well-grown, containerised hollies at about 1.5 metres and .75m spread for £50. Expensive in terms of a Christmas tree, but as I plan to re-use it for several years, and then find a permanent place for it in the garden, I think it’s good value compared to a Norway Spruce – which I don’t want in my garden, and will be burned or logged on Twelfth Night. With longer-term planning it’s possible to do it much more cheaply, buying hedging plants or very small trees in the Spring at about £10 each. That’s what I’m going to do in 2011, so that in 3 years time when I want to plant this year’s holly permanently outside, I’ll have a good-sized containerised tree to replace it.
And I’m also going to buy at least one and probably two smaller and cheaper male plants, so that my beautiful female holly is pollinated and has berries every year.
The tree looks a treat – slightly more slender in habit than a fir, it has an elegant outline, and the dark, glossy, spiny foliage is a great foil for the few ornaments I have put on it so far. It looks very natural, and very Christmassy – and when we decorate properly next week, I think we’ll feel very proud of our choice – traditional, native, and environmentally sound.
1. My kids are old enough to bear a few spiny prickles – if I had young children I would choose a non-spiny cultivar such as I. aquifolium ‘J.C. van Toll’, so that they could help to decorate the tree.
2. I’m going to monitor this – not just how good the tree looks now, but how it survives the two weeks indoors, and the transition to outdoors. I’ll keep you posted!