Many readers may fail to identify this immediately as a holly on account of the fact the berries are greenish yellow and the leaves lack the common prickly appearance that we associate with the family. The reason the berries are not red is because I had to get in, despite the rain, and photograph the astonishing crop before they ripened. As soon as they show colour, the birds strip them very promptly and without hesitation. Hollies don’t usually berry well in this climate – they need a greater winter chill – but this selection which is native to China and Korea is a notable exception. I can’t help but think that the reason why holly and ivy are so closely associated with an English Christmas might be that, in their cold climate, there are not a lot of other candidates which are amenable to being picked in the depths of winter and the red holly berries contrast well with snow. Presumably their birds are not as voracious as ours, particularly our kereru or native wood pigeon. Ilex are very slow growing – this one was maybe a metre and half high and wide after many years but this form is apparently widely grown as a hedge in USA. A holly hedge is one way of making sure that people only enter your property by the designated pathway and not via shortcuts. Burglar deterrent plants, really.
Planted adjacent to the ilex in a town garden, is Raphiolepsis indica “Enchantress” which is a similar sized, bushy evergreen shrub from South China. While “Enchantress” might be slightly over-stating the case, the pretty apple blossom-like flowers have matured to a remarkable display of deep purple berries. They look like blueberries so I asked the garden owner if they were poisonous. A man of impeccable horticultural and botanical credentials (it was George Fuller), he replied that as far as he knew the berries had no toxic properties. With its dark foliage and dark berries, it is not a landscape plant that will stand out in the distance but there is a definite shortage of well behaved evergreen shrubs which stay tidy and dense in a smaller garden rather than becoming leggy triffids. This plant is worth growing for its berries, let alone its other attributes.