Garden guide

PUBLISHED: 05:28 15 December 2014

Ilex aq. ferox argentea (Silver hedgehog holly)

Ilex aq. ferox argentea (Silver hedgehog holly)


With winter, the evergreen plants which give our gardens their structure become more prominent features. The most seasonal of these evergreens are hollies.

Hollies provide valuable food for birds.Hollies provide valuable food for birds.

With winter, the evergreen plants which give our gardens their structure become more prominent features. The most seasonal of these evergreens are hollies, there are many varieties available with leaves in shades of green, gold and cream variegation with or without the traditional spiny leaves.

A good choice if there is only room for one holly is the self-fertile Ilex aquifolium J.C.van Tol, which has dark green, almost spineless leaves and regular crops of red berries without the need for male pollinator. There are also golden and silver variegated varieties of this cultivar. One of the best golden variegated varieties is the female Ilex x altaclerensis Golden King – its almost spineless green leaves have a good bright yellow margin.

An interesting male holly is the smaller growing Ilex aq.Ferox argentea, the Silver Hedgehog holly, the upper surfaces of its creamy white, margined leaves are puckered with many short, cream-tipped spines from which it gets its name. Green and golden variegated varieties of this cultivar are also available.

Another evergreen with seasonal connections is the ivy, which like the hollies is also beneficial to wildlife; it is not only a useful climber but an excellent ground cover plant for difficult places such as under trees where little else will grow.

The peeling bark of Acer griseum.The peeling bark of Acer griseum.

Hedera helix Buttercup is a good slow-growing golden variety of the common ivy; its yellow leaves turning yellowish-green with age. A good, compact, bright green variety is Hedera h. Ivalace which has attractive, stiffly curled margins to its leaves and makes an excellent ground cover plant.

Some good larger leaved varieties include Hedera colchica variegata which has leaves of green to grey, edged in creamy yellow when young, fading to cream when mature, and Hedera c.Sulphur Heart which has a large splash of yellow in the centre of its green leaves which turn a pale yellow green with age.

Plant of the month

Acer griseum, Paperbark maple

This slow-growing deciduous tree provides interest for many months of the year; it is of particular value in the winter with its papery, chestnut brown, peeling bark from which it gets its name being shown off to its full effect. Like many Acers it also puts on a fiery autumn display when its green leaves turn orange and scarlet red. It also has clusters of small, yellow flowers in spring, followed by winged fruits.

Question time

My pear tree has a crust-like growth on some of its branches. What is it and will it harm the tree?

This sounds like a type of lichen called Crustose lichen which tends to grow on older or slow-growing branches. It makes its own food from sunlight and is not a parasite, so will do no damage to your tree.

Catch up with Keith

The pruning of trees such as Betula (silver birch) should be done before the New Year to avoid sap bleeding from the wounds.

Winter washes can be applied to fruit trees to help control overwintering pests.

Saw 5-7cm off cut Christmas trees before putting in a water-holding stand to prevent premature needle drop.

Tidy up any infected leaves and burn or throw away to help control diseases such as black spot.

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