Another nursery plant name fiasco
Tulip tree, Hemingway and six-toed cats in Florida

Hollies book review

Holliescover Hollies for Gardeners by Christopher Bailes

  • Thorough treatment of both European and American hollies
  • Good for gardeners on both sides of the Atlantic, not focused on England
  • Accessible writing style
  • Great photography
  • Makes you want to grow more hollies

It’s always a big gamble reviewing a book written by a friend and I committed to reviewing this book even before I saw it – such is my faith.

Transatlantically, so to speak, hollies are interesting. In Britain we grow almost exclusively two evergreen species – the English holly, Ilex aquifolium, and I. x altaclerensis – while in North America the deciduous winterberry, Ilex verticillata, and its hybrids are more common along with the evergreen American holly, I. opaca. And this a book by a British author, the Curator of the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Rosemoor in Devon, in the south west of England, where almost 200 different hollies are grown. He’s had a very long standing interest in hollies and I know he’s spent a great deal of time studying hollies in North America.

So, is his book any good?

Phew… what a relief. It is! And one of its great strengths is the way in which the author’s transatlantic experiences are not separated into “here” and “there” but woven together so effectively into one narrative. Altogether it’s an impressive example of expertise, accessible writing and fine photography. It opened my eye to the enormous range of hollies available and made me want to plant more.Ilexverticillata500

And I was intrigued to find that one reason that the deciduous hollies, so popular in the USA, are so much less often grown in Britain is that in Britain the birds tend to strip the berries even before the leaves have fallen while I’ve often noticed that they may leave the berries of Ilex aquifoilium until well into the winter. Likewise, it was revealing to discover that the evergreen hollies so popular in Britain are only generally hardy to zone 6 – that explains why no one grows them here in Pennsylvania (zone 5). And now we also know why the blue holly, I. x meservae, introduced to Britain with great fanfare in the 1980s, failed for me and for so many other Brits while continuing to succeed in the US… the British summers are too cool for it.

All the usual elements that you would expect are there: botanical classification, lots of ideas for using hollies in the garden, a clear (and blissfully concise) account of the leaf miner problem – plus, of course, excellent descriptions of both species and the many cultivars we all come across. And the photography is both generous and excellent.

In recent years the quality of the plant monographs from Timber Press has been rather variable: this is a good one!

Just one small thing, Chris. I would have liked to know why male hollies came to be called ‘Golden Queen’ and ‘Silver Queen’ and the name ‘Golden King’ was attached to a male!

Hollies for Gardeners by Christopher Bailes is published by Timber Press.

Order Hollies for Gardeners for the USA
Order Hollies for Gardeners for the Britain