Tony Hall tells tales of holly folklore and describes the amazing variety of colour to be seen along Kew's historic Holly Walk.
This has been a great year for berries. Wandering down Kew's historic Holly Walk at this festive time of year, you can see some of the amazing variety of colours in both berries and leaves, as well as some of Kew's attractive ivies.
There is so much mythology and folklore associated with holly, from Christian links with Jesus and the crown of thorns in which the berries represent drops of blood, to stories of the Holly King in Celtic mythology. One of my favorites is that hollies were left uncut in old hedgerows, not only because it is supposed to be bad luck to cut down a holly tree, but also beacuse it stops witches running along the tops of hedges, as they were of course well known to do!
The holly hedge and dumplings behind the Palm House
There are many hollies around the garden, including the holly hedge and dumplings, planted in 1906, and those around the rose garden behind the Palm House. There is also an ivy hedge surrounding the Palm House.
But it is along Holly Walk that we find most of the mature hollies laid out in 1874. Many of these trees are over 130 years old and are part of the largest collection of mature hollies in Europe. The majority of the hollies along Holly Walk are cultivars of the common holly, Ilex aquifolium and Ilex x altacerensis. Like the ones in the pictures below, they show a great variety of berry colour and leaf shape, and not all are spikey.
Image left: Ilex ' Frucu Luteo' Image right: Ilex x altacerensis 'Gold King'
... and the ivies
There are also some great looking ivies and again most of the more showy ones are cultivars:
Left: Hedera colchica 'Dentata Variegata'; Right: Hedera helix 'Pennsylvanica'
But we can't forget...
Even though the title of this blog is titled 'The holly and the ivy', when it comes to festive plants you must not forget mistletoe. Not a common plant at Kew, but another one most people associate with Christmas.
Mistletoe, Viscum alba
Look out for my next blog in the new year, when the Arboretum team will be replanting many new hollies along Holly Walk, filling in gaps where we have lost trees the past, and adding more and different cultivars to keep this historic avenue growing for future generations.
- Tony -
Find out more
- Common holly (Ilex aquifolium)
- Mistletoe (Viscum album)
- Watch the slideshow about the history of Christmas plants
- Browse the image gallery of Christmas plants
The Arboretum team blog includes stories about individual plants growing at Kew, information about the growing techniques that we use, and reports on our field trips to see woody plants growing in their natural habitats. You can also find out how we look after Kew's renowned world plant collections.
- english garden
- around the world
- ground breaking
- for kids
- english heritage
- for friends
- gifts that help
- the UK
- brand new
- for plant lovers
- special interest
- at risk
- Kew at home
- garden plants
- high up
Keep up to date with events and news from Kew