The Holly and the Ivy – plants to enjoy in December

These quintessential winter evergreens are perfect backbone garden plants, evergreen, unfussy, suitable for any soil and and providers of fruits and berries for hungry birds. Both plant families offer a huge range of varieties. As Christmas approaches, it’s traditional to celebrate the season by bringing armfuls of foliage and berries into the house, perhaps to make a wreath for the front door, or table decorations and flower arrangements.

Hollies will grow in shade but prefer some sun. All hollies are spiny, so are a good choice for a secure boundary hedge. They’re typically either male or female, so it’s essential to plant a partner nearby to ensure they bear berries. If you only have room for one, then choose a haemaphrodite such as Ilex Aquifolium Pyramidalis.

Ilex Aquifolium 'Bacciflavia'
Ilex Aquifolium ‘Bacciflavia’. Photo: RHS

The yellow berries of Ilex aquifolium ‘Bacciflava’ (f) display beautifully against its glossy dark green leaves, whereas the Ilex Silver Queen (m) (male – don’t be fooled by the name) has creamy-white margins and dark olive-green centres.

Silver Milkmaid
Silver Milkmaid. Photo:

For variegated foliage and abundant red berries Silver Milkmaid (f) offers light green leaves that have a central cream splash.

Ivy Hedging
Ivy Hedging. Photo:

Ivies will flourish in shady areas where few other plants thrive, and can be grown as groundcover, as well as up a support. They can also be grown in pots, tubs and hanging baskets, under shrubs or as a climber to cover dead tree trunks or the walls of outbuildings. Once established, they’re a doddle to grow but need to be kept in check with regular pruning to prevent them from becoming invasive.

Sulphur Heart
Sulphur Heart. Source:

Sulphur Heart is a variegated Persian ivy with heart-shaped leaves splashed with yellow. Mature plants bear large green flowers in autumn. Hedera Helix White Wonder offers variegated leaves ranging in shades of rich green to white, and Goldchild has grey-green leaves with bold yellow margins, perfect for lightening up a dark corner.