Foster holly provides best decoration
Posted: Tuesday, December 21, 2010 8:01 pm
By: By Jimmy Williams
Deck the halls with boughs of holly,
fa la la la la la la la la la
’Tis the season to be jolly,
fa la la la la la la la la la. ...
Well, I guess so. Be jolly, I mean. It’s tough, with crudheads to your left and right, jostling for the post position in the race to buy one of the three computers advertised a ridiculous price. Or punks that whip in front of you in traffic before darting into a fast food joint. And on ad infinitum. It goes with the holiday territory.
It’s just now time to decorate for Christmas, never mind that stores had the stuff before Halloween. Holly has figured in those decorations since the Druids brought sprigs of it in on the shortest day of the year to commemorate what they thought was the end of winter. It was only the beginning, of course.
Of all the hollies we can grow in this climate, one stands head and shoulders above others for that purpose. Foster holly offers glossy, clean, dark green foliage and berries dependably every year. It is a hybrid between Ilex opaca, our native American holly, and Ilex cassine. The common name Foster is a catch-all term for several forms that are similar.
That former parent is critical to the success of Foster holly. American hollies bloom on new wood, later in spring than Chinese hollies and some others. The blooms are seldom mitigated by freezes, and the berries are borne closer to the tips of the shoots, not buried behind much foliage. The American holly parentage provides that feature in the Foster, and it inherits the native’s winter hardiness.
In the winters of the ’80s, when the mercury sank to 17 below 0 twice here and Chinese hollies and their derivitives were reduced to stubble, Fosters were only somewhat defoliated and never frozen back.
The foliage of Foster holly is excellent, rivaling, but not matching, that of English holly, which has the finest foliage of all but detests heat and humidity, preventing its success here.
Other varieties of the same hybrid are East Palatka and Savannah. Before Foster hollies became well known, these were sidely sold. The former, developed in East Palatka, Fla., is not reliably winter hardy here, while Savannah is. I have three of the latter. They are nice specimens, bearing plenty of berries, but the foliage is nowhere as good as that of my Fosters.
Nellie R. Stevens is a hybrid between English holly and Chinese holly, inheriting none of the aversion to heat of the former. It is easy to grow here, and is the fastest of our hollies. It will form a 10-foot plant in five years from a three-gallon start, if fertilized and copiously watered. The foliage is glossy and broad. Berrying is more erratic than that of the Foster holly, being accomplished if fertilized by a male Chinese holly or its derivitive. It is not as winter hardy as Foster.
Of the probably 25 varieties of holly on our place, the one with the finest foliage is Emily Brunner. This is another hybrid inheriting Chinese holly blood, and thus isn’t as hardy here, though my one tree has been in situ at least 10 years and is that many feet tall in dry woodland.
The only drawback is that questionable hardiness and sparse berrying. Emily is said to berry heavily if pollinated by James Swan, but where to find him? I’ve never met one in any nursery. Emily Brunner has glossy, dark green leaves to five inches long and half as wide. I have threatened to cheat with this wonderful foliage and attach berries from a Foster or some other holly for Christmas decorations.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 12.21.10
Jimmy Williams, The Garden Path