The lowdown on holly and ivies
Ivy has always been associated with magic. In the north of Scotland circlets of ivy were put under the milk vessels to keep evil away.
The reason holly and ivy were brought indoors at Christmas time was not for cheery decoration as most of us believe, but it was to ward off hobgoblins that lurk at this time of the year when nights are darkest and it was very much a pagan tradition.
Ivy grows in full sun or complete shade and forms a swathe around trees, buildings, gravestones, walls or large areas of ground.
It is believed that ivy kills trees by feeding parasitically via its suckers or rootlets, but this is not the case. The rootlets grow to support the ivy, not feed it. If you sever the main trunk so nutrient is not being sent up from the soil, the plant will die.
Holly casts a drier shade than any other tree and is the first place that animals will go for protection against rain. Holly prefers moist, well-drained soil and looks its best in full sunshine – especially variegated varieties. Too much shade can cause it to be a bit stringy.
Contrary to popular belief holly berries do not have to be red. Ilex aquifolium ‘Bacciflava’ is a female tree with bright yellow berries and ‘Pyramidalis Fructu Luteo’ and ‘Amber’ both have yellow berries.
In ‘As You Like It’ by Shakespeare, he captures the celebration of these darker days far better than any carol with the line: ‘Heigh ho! sing heigh-ho! unto the green holly/Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly./Then heigh-ho! the holly!/This life is most jolly.’ Just so!