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December 13, 2011 > Pat Kite's Garden: Deck the Halls

Pat Kite's Garden: Deck the Halls

My first Holly bush refused to grow. Reference books insist English holly [Ilex aquifolium] is either boy or girl, and needs a mate to make berries. So I got a second one. It just stood there, oblivious to having a sex life or any type of movement.

Perhaps they needed a sunnier spot. So I dug and transferred. I also resorted to threats. "You either grow, or into the compost pile!" Three years later, they were huge... huge enough to block sunshine to neighboring plants. I decided to relocate, ignoring the reference book warning that "Hollies do not like to be moved." Sigh.

English holly is our Christmas wreath and "Deck the Halls" staple. In medieval Christmas songs, holly is often discussed as a man's plant, while ivy represents women. It was once a custom for children to make "Figgies," dolls clad as holly-boy and ivy-girl. In old England, tradition held if the first holly brought into the house at Christmas were prickly, the husband would rule for the coming year but if the holly had smooth leaves and was first in the door, than the wife was supreme.

Churches used holly, ivy and rosemary for holiday dˇcor. Holly's needle-sharp leaves and blood-red berries were associated with Christ's crown of thorns. In the 1700s, a writer complained, "The Church, as it is now equipped, looks more like a Greenhouse than a Place of Worship."

There are over 400 different types of Holly. They like mostly sun, prefer good soil, and hanker for regular watering. Check out the final size before purchasing. Some are just 12-inches tall, and others can get to 50-feet high.

Even though I basically gave up crafting after my D-grade paper mache duck in high school art class, I have actually succeeded in making a holiday wreath. It was lopsided, but recognizable. The simplest and least expensive method starts with two wire coat hangers. Stretch them wreath-shaped and join with floral tape. Cut 10-inch branches of holly, ivy, rosemary, pine, juniper, ferns, whatever you have or can wheedle. Secure the branches with lightweight floral wire, overlapping the ends. When the wreath is completely covered, you can wire on berries, bows, bells, or excess small Christmas ornaments.

If you are truly decorating your halls with boughs of holly, there are apparently some long-ago mystic rules. Holly has been considered a "magic" plant, so to be on the safest side, don't bring it into your home before Christmas, and take it down on Twelfth Night or January fifth. After that, you are supposed to make merry. Fa-la-la! And have a Happy New Year too.

See you 2012.

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