Winter's Prettiest Holly

In the midst of gloomy winter, my eye searches for color. Usually it comes from flashing blue lights on the police cars behind me, but not today. On a visit to Aldridge Gardens in Hoover, Alabama, I spotted a blaze of red at the edge of a pond. The source is a very special holly. Winterberry.

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is a native, deciduous holly. Although its bright red berries appear in fall, it’s showiest after its leaves drop and thousands of these fruits adorn its naked branches all winter. It’s one of the few hollies that thrives in wet soil — heck, it’ll grow right out of standing water — but winterberry also does well in well-drained soil. It’s very cold-hardy, easy to grow, and needs very little pruning or other maintenance.

Sounds like a winner, doesn’t it?

Like many hollies, winterberry has separate sexes and only female plants bear fruit. So you need to plant one male plant nearby six or more females to get berries. It’s important to pick males and females that bloom at the same time for pollination. While there are many female selections, in Grumpy’s opinion by far the best is one named ‘Winter Red.’ This is easy to find in garden centers. Pollinate it with the male ‘Southern Gentleman.’

‘Winter Red’ grows 6 to 8 feet tall and wide. A natural mutation of it, ‘Winter Gold,’ bears golden-orange fruit. The two look nice together. Plant in acid soil in full to part sun. The berries last all winter or until the birds eat them. You can cut berry-laden branches and display them indoors in an empty vase. No need to add water. Woodlanders Nursery in Aiken, South Carolina is an excellent mail-order source.

Grumpy Book-Signing at Callaway Gardens For many years, the South's premier horticultural get-together has been the Southern Garden Symposium at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia. It always features a lineup of gardening's big names speaking on a wide variety of interesting topics. This year's symposium takes place from Friday, January 23 through Sunday, January 25. Guess who'll be appearing Friday evening? Grumpy himself (oh, be still your throbbing heart!) signing copies of the New Southern Living Garden Book on sale at Callaway!

Saturday and Sunday, the Symposium will feature people like Larry Mellichamp speaking on unusual native plants, Kurt Straudt on growing succulents, Michael Buckman on butterfly gardening, Dan Long on clematis, Jinni Hernandez on hot new annuals, and Peter Loewer on "Murder in the Garden." (Killer presentation.) The deadline to register is this Friday, January 16. Registration is $295 and includes the Friday night reception (where you'll meet me, worth the whole registration itself!), two breakfasts, Saturday box lunch, Saturday banquet, and materials. A special room rate of $89 per night is offered. For more info, call (855) 421-4080 or email education@callawaygardens.com.

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