Ilex x wandoensis at RHS Wisley

Holly berry crop due to be best this millennium

The RHS has reported record holly berry growth this year

The Royal Horticultural Society has reported a boom in holly berries this month, with gardens and partner gardens seeing a ‘bumper crop’.

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Curator Jonathan Webster at RHS Garden Rosemoor in North Devon has said the holly berries are the best he has seen in 15 years. Staff in that garden have noted a high number of berries on the garden’s National Collection of Ilex (holly). At RHS Garden Harlow Carr in North Yorkshire, reports are that the hollies are fruiting more prolifically than they have since the turn of the millennium.

Ilex x wandoensis at RHS Wisley
Ilex x wandoensis at RHS Wisley
© RHS and Guy Barter

RHS chief horticulturist Guy Barter said the reason for the abundance of holly is likely to be down to 2018’s hot, dry summer. “The heat and light of 2018 did not faze hollies which are tolerant of drought – the waxy leaves inhibit water loss and the spikes act like cooling fins on an engine shedding heat,” he explained.

Seedhead wreath

“They made good use of the conditions to lay down ample flower buds. A hot dry July is linked to good berry production the following year and with better growing weather in 2019, the berries swelled and coloured up well – they are always more abundant after hot dry years, but can be inhibited by spring frosts. Happily, holly flowered too late to be affected by frosts last spring. Birds relish holly so enjoy the berries while you can.”

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Tradition says that a good year for holly berries can mean a cold winter to come, but holly grower and holder of the UK’s other National Collection of Ilex, Louise Bendall, said: “Over the 30-odd years I’ve been growing hollies here, I would say that adequate rainfall, the absence of late frosts and good insect activity are the conditions necessary for heavy fruiting,” saying that the myth is ‘absolute bunkum’.

Read our plant profile on the best hollies for your garden