Have a happy holly day

This past weekend, like people have done for thousands of years before me, I decorated my home with holly. The botanical name is ilex aquifoliaceae. The genus ilex, as far as I can determine, refers to oak. I'm not sure about that - maybe because the shape of the leaf resembles an oak leaf? The family aquifoliaceae means wet foliage, no doubt referring to the appearance of its shiny leaves.The berries of this burford holly were still turning when I took this photo a few weeks ago.

The evergreen holly symbolizes eternal life. Early Christians wove its branches into wreaths. The spiny leaves represented the crown of thorns that Christ wore during his crucifixion, and the red berries represented drops of his blood. Even before the time of Christ, however, ancient peoples gave special meaning to holly. The Celts hung holly above their windows and doors during winter time to offer woodland fairies  protection from the bitter weather, and in return, the fairies would bring good fortune to the inhabitants of the house. People also used holly for medicinal purposes, using it to treat ailments such as fever, arthritis, and kidney stones. Native Americans used holly to make a tea for purification prior to religious ceremonies.  

There are hundreds of species of holly. They grow all over the world in zones 3 through 11, depending on the variety. Some are tiny shrubs, and some are trees growing to seventy feet. There was a large American holly tree, ilex opaca, growing behind our house when we moved to Helena in 1985. Sadly, it was severely twisted and damaged during our tornado in 1990, and we had to cut it down.

Most hollies are evergreen, but some are deciduous. One is ilex decidua, or possumhaw holly. This tree grows to twenty or thirty feet and may have red or yellow berries, depending on the variety. Another deciduous holly is common winterberry, ilex verticillata. It has spectacular fruit and grows three to ten feet.I took this photo last year at Biltmore Estate in North Carolina. Winterberries grow in front of possumhaw.

Hollies usually are either male or female, and only the females produce berries. There needs to be at least one male in the neighborhood to fertilize nearby females for fruit production. Some hollies are self-fertile. This is why I planted ilex cornuta 'burfordii'. I have the dwarf form of burford holly, and it has grown about eight feet in a decade. It has produced abundant berries each year.

Birds tend to leave holly berries untouched until late winter. We have a weeping yaupon holly (ilex vomitoria) growing outside the glass doors of our breakfast room. Its tiny red berries remain until February or March, when the entire plant is stripped of its fruit in a single weekend. I look forward to the event each year, when mockingbirds flutter in and out of its branches as they gorge themselves. I think the berries have to ripen, and the birds know the exact moment when their flavor reaches its peak.

I am not an expert, and I have common, easy-to-grow varieties of holly. I am fortunate to have plenty of space to indulge my plant whims, but I think surely there is a species of holly for almost every garden. 

Happy holly-days to you all - Deborah



An award no lizard can give

I have a confession. Before I started this garden blog, I had never read another one. The purpose of my blog? Here I am at the end of the road, and no one ever sees my garden, except friends and family and, of course, the mail carrier. I put a lot of work into my yard, and I want others to see it. 

I don't garden for glory. I garden because working the soil refreshes my spirit and tones my body, and there is deep satisfaction in nurturing a plot of land and watching plants grow. A scene like this photo, taken from my patio in the spring, gives me a little jolt of joy, no matter how busy or stressed I am.

 I garden because I like to be out there with the birds and squirrels and butterflies and bees.

I like to create a sanctuary for them, and in the process I make a place that's good for me, too.

I delight in the creatures of the garden, and sometimes I think they appreciate my efforts. I caught this guy sunning himself on a concrete ornament I had placed on my patio table.

But I am human. Occasionally I admire the featured "Yard of the Month" in the Helena news, and I know a lizard isn't going to nominate me for a landscaping award.

I thought there could be a few hundred garden blogs out there, but really I had no idea. I published my first post, Weed War, on October 5, less than two months ago. Nobody read it. I followed up with Weed War: part 2, and nobody read that either. I finally cajoled some relatives and friends to take a peek. I bribed my friend Virginia to leave a comment. Everyone gave glowing praise, except my son Mark, who said I should add more pictures. Good advice.

Then, on November 10, I discovered Blotanical. Wow. Now I had the gardening world available at the click of a mouse. I realized I was a tiny minnow in the ocean of garden blogs, many written by gifted writers and expert landscapers and horticulturists. There are professional photographers and computer whizzes who can put together amazing web sites. I gulped and kept swimming, wondering how long I could survive in in such deep waters.

Then something happened. Other little fishes, and big fishes, too, swam up and welcomed me. And they began to read my blog! I remembered what I have always known: gardeners from all over the planet are naturally warm souls who like to share. So I am very happy at Blotanical. I thank everyone who has visited my site and commented on my posts. I thank all these gifted people who have invited me to visit their own gardens and have offered encouragement and inspiration to me.

And this past week, I was nominated for Yard of the Month!

Well, not exactly. What happened was, Noelle, of azplantlady, (She gardens in another world, in a fascinating place called Arizona) presented me with the Best Blog Award. At first I thought it might be a mistake, and I had better take my award and hide it before someone said, "Oops! Sorry, but that was the wrong Deborah."  Then, a couple days later, Deborah (She spells it the same way I do, and she is a Canadian whose climate is also quite different from mine) of Green Theatre presented me with the same award. So it is really me, and I do get to keep it. Thank you, thank you, Noelle and Deborah!

The award has strings attached. First, I have to display it:


Looks nice, doesn't it? 


And I have to pass it along to somebody else. I have discovered that "Best Blog" doesn't mean THE best blog; it means another blogger thinks your blog has merit and is worthy of recognition. The problem for me is that almost all the other bloggers I know already have this award, well deserved. There is one blogger who is also new to Blotanical. He gardens in south Florida, and his wit has made me a fan. I think he needs encouragement to become more involved with the Blotanical community. So I hereby present the award to sanddune of South Florida Challenges..   Everybody check out his blog. Thanks!