Hollies come in a huge range of leaf forms, colours and sizes, but this is one of the most attractive: Ilex aquifolium 'Handsworth New Silver' AGM has purple young shoots and spiny dark green leaves margined in white to creamy yellow. The small white flowers are followed by bright red berries (provided a male holly is located nearby for pollination).
As this is a variegated cultivar, it performs best in full sun but it will grow in partial shade, preferring a fertile, humus-rich soil with good drainage. This is a compact, dense evergreen and the only pruning it needs is to keep it within its allocated space. It makes a lovely hedge or you can use it as a small specimen tree growing 2-3m (6½-10ft) high if pruned, or up to 8m (26ft) if allowed to grow freely.
This holly is excellent planted with deciduous shrubs that have yellow autumn colour, to harmonise with the edging to the leaves. For example, we have it next to Salix alba 'Golden Ness' AGM in the Winter Garden. The yellow autumn leaves, followed by the yellow stems of this plant, ensure a pleasing combination with the Ilex in autumn and winter. Any yellow-stemmed dogwood will have the same effect. In the same border, it provides an interesting contrast with the red autumn leaves and bright red/orange berries of Euonymus europaeus 'Red Cascade' AGM. An underplanting of Pulmonaria longifolia 'Bertram Anderson' with silver spotted leaves reflects the variegation of the holly. Other suitable ground cover plants include epimediums, ferns, hellebores and Carex.
In the shrubbery borders, ‘Handsworth New Silver’ brightens up a backdrop of darker-leaved plants such as magnolias and viburnums during the winter months when they are looking their dullest. Here, we have also under planted with Narcissus 'Thalia Sun'; a lovely spring combination.
A holly has a place in everyone’s garden but ‘Handsworth New Silver’ offers great value in its versatility with planting combinations, and it will contribute greatly to the structure of a border throughout the year.
If you would like to learn more about the Rosemoor holly collection, our Holly Trail will be starting on 18 November.
RHS advice blog: How the holly got its berries (and why yours hasn't got any)
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