Six on Saturday-23.11.19 welcome to the Holly King

Recently, I have been finding myself weighing up the merits of plants in the back garden. I have worked on remaking the front garden from scratch and it looks better for being planned. The back garden is a mixture of plants that came with the garden and random purchases. Many plants were already there when I took ownership. I’ve given them three years but some just aren’t right. The white beam tree is an example in point. It came with the garden and I have spent three years trying to make it work. Initially, it needed a hard prune as it had many crossing branches and was getting larger than I’d like. Then I’ve tried to keep on top of it, thinning and pruning out a bit each year to keep its size in check. But it just isn’t happy. Its leaves dropped early this year. Last Sunday I made the decision to dig it out. I already had a Holly in mind to replace it. I like the look of the holly more and I think an evergreen tree will give a nicer sense of structure to this area. The holly, potentially, offers more for wildlife as well as pleasing me more visually. I’m not very well today and the whole household has been snotty and coughing all week. Another day of throat sweets and tissues will do us all a world of good.

1. The white beam

At its best, the white beam has lovely silver foliage and is popular with birds for its berries. Mine has lost its leaves late on in summer. It hasn’t agreed with the sea winds. It has never looked massively healthy despite good soil conditions as far as I can tell. The ground has been well mulched over the three years we’ve been in the house. There are a number of these trees in local parks a bit further away from the seafront and they look great but they fill far more space than I have available. So while it seems a shame to remove an established tree I’ve tried for 3 years to find a solution and haven’t come up with one. Pruning can keep it in check but it isn’t very happy for the pruning. I miss out on the berries. But ultimately I don’t have the space for plants unsuited to a medium-sized garden.

The berry production has been low as I’ve had to prune it to keep it in check.

2. The tools

This is the first proper run out for my Japeto saw. It did a good job cutting off the outer branches leaving a structure I could lever out. On the smaller end, my Hori Hori knife was useful for working around the roots. My loopers are not amazing. I broke a set earlier in the year and bought these as a quick replacement but the did the job cutting the branches thin enough to not require sawing. The axe and spade came in use for hacking at roots. Then the crowbar proved its worth again. The spike getting under the roots to help lever up. The tree came out easier than the hebes in the front garden. I think part of this was having the right tools to help and partly the tree wasn’t as healthy as it should have been for its size. The roots weren’t that deep or thick for a tree over a decade old. The leaves have fallen very early in the year so I think it probably wasn’t too happy a tree anyway.

3. The gap left

The tree was in the middle of several ferns. A number of the ostrich ferns I think I may have squished beneath the soil I’ve dugout, but still a good few left that should recover next year. The geranium will need watching or else it will claim all that free ground. The new holly is going to go about a metre from where the white beam was so it doesn’t have to force its way through the old roots from the off. Now I’ve got the white beam out I think I’m going to have a shuffle of the surrounding plants. I think the limelight can go along a bit to give it a bit more space. I’m going to take out the fennel as this will give me a run of plants that work together with the holly, ferns, hydrangeas and Acers playing well together. I’m tempted to add some of the box plants to try and add some formal structure to the mix. I think they would grow to look nice against the more wild ferns. It will hopefully make the border a more cohesive area rather than a mess of random plants growing into each other.

4. Background

The euonymus behind was almost the same height so the loss of the tree hasn’t left an obvious gap looking from the house, but sideways on the loss of a large tree shows. The euonymus isn’t the most exciting of shrubs but it blocks the view to my storage area. Pile behind this shrub is compost, bags of leaves turning to leaf mulch and piles of bricks. I’ve got a holly to replace the white beam. The two have very similar variegation. It would look better if I had a contrast to go behind the new holly but I don’t want to lose the screen. The holly will take a good amount of time to reach the height that the white beam was. Then I can maybe look at replacing the euonymus with something contrasting to the holly. But this will be a good few years down the line.

5. Log pile

Next to the lilac, I have a pile of prunings. While this may look a bit messy and it will be many years for it to rot down it makes for a good habitat pile with many creatures to be found. The white beam will be cut down so even in death it can still serve a purpose in the garden.

6. The newcomer

To replace the white beam I’ve got a holly tree, Ilex altaclernsis ‘golden king’. I didn’t want to be without a tree in this corner as it makes much of the structure of the garden. This won’t grow quite as big as the white beam might have grown. It is potentially beneficial for wildlife with the flowers providing for pollinators. This is meant to be a female. That means it will only produce the berries if a male is in the neighbourhood, which walking around I think there are a few male hollies around. If it doesn’t produce I may need to add a male, but would probably look at keeping the male smaller, allowing to flower, while pruning it as a shrub. The foliage earned it a place in Christopher Lloyd’s foliage plants, discussed last week. It was the only holly he grew, despite liking others, and if that seems like a good enough recommendation to me. It has an RHS Award of merit showing its reliability. I can’t really justify buying a large one so I’m starting small with a two-litre pot and playing the long game. At least I know I’ve probably got another decade before I have to worry about its size. It seems appropriate to be adding a Holly at this time of year as the traditional archetype of winter. Long may the Holly King Reign!

This was my first time purchasing from crocus and I’m pretty impressed. I paid for the named delivery so I could have it arrive on a day I’d be in. It came well packaged in a box. A minimal amount of plastic wrapped around the pot to keep moisture in.

I couldn’t afford or justify spending on the larger size so I’m playing the long game buying a two-litre pot. I wasn’t expecting much height for the price but it’s still a decent metre and looks to be nice and healthy.

I’ve planted it about a metre from where the white beam was so it isn’t growing through the root mass of the previous tree. When I’m feeling a bit better I’m going to have a shuffle of the surrounding shrubs. The limelight hydrangea is going to get moved along a bit to where the fennel currently is. The fennel will come out. Then I’ve got a few hostas, ferns and small box shrubs to go in. Alongside the Acer, this should make this area a bit more cohesive. Behind it is the trunk of the white beam waiting to be cut up.  Then the red stems on the fence are from one of the climbing hydrangea planted this year. This has started putting on growth before the leaves dropped. In a few years, this should be a nice solid area of foliage with bursts of colour from flowers and berries.


Well, I’ve spent the last few days looking after a poorly daughter and then Thursday succumbed to it myself. My head is thumping and very weak, though think I’m coming out of the worst of it, so no gardening today. It is National Tree Week, so it seems appropriate that I’m planting a tree afresh. While I have taken one out it wasn’t one that could remain long term, whereas hopefully, this one will be able to stay. National Tree Week was started to replace the trees lost by Ash dieback but has taken a greater significance in the fight against climate change. Adding trees, particularly fruit-bearing trees provides many benefits for wildlife with flowers for pollinators and then fruit for birds. Many small fruit trees can be added to small gardens, so lack of space is a poor excuse. Failing this the Tree Council and Woodland Trust offer lots of tree planting opportunities for community groups.

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21 thoughts on “Six on Saturday-23.11.19 welcome to the Holly King”

  1. The holly looks lovely. It should grow nice and bushy and fill that space. I think planning a new border from scratch is so nice, it’s hard when you inherit a mature garden. There are things in my garden which I’d love to remove, but I’d need help to do so. What I have done is try and enhance what was already there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not quite better, but both a lot better than we were. Currently the holly is slightly bigger than the hydrangea. The hydrangea will put on growth quicker, but the holly is capable of growing much bigger so I’m going to give the hydrangea a bit more space so they aren’t competing too much while getting established.


  2. The holly will quickly grow, reassure you, the purchase of a small plant of 1m will quickly be profitable. ( and more… a variegated holly is a good choice.)
    Take care …. well deserved rest this weekend !

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a lot of work that took to remove the white beam. You deserve a few days’ rest, altho wouldn’t it be nice not to feel sick? As Fred said, the holly should grow quickly & you’ll soon have a better sense of where you want things to go. Look forward to seeing the finished product.

    Liked by 1 person

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