Decking the Halls

When we moved into our house, the perennial border needed a lot of work. I've posted "before" photos of the border before, but these were really process shots showing what it looked like after we dug out or trimmed back a ton of overgrown stuff. I guess you could call them the "blank slate" pictures.

One of the worst parts of the border back in the winter of 2010 was the holly bush, which clearly hadn't been pruned for several seasons:

The tall tree in the front was a flowering pear tree that we chopped down a few months after this photo was taken. (Who plants a pear tree that doesn't produce pears? Clearly, that didn't belong in our future orchard space.) Behind that tall tree, against the house, are the holly bushes. The male one (against the porch to the right) is nice and compact, and needed only a trim to shape it up. But to the left of that (on the corner of the house where it meets the porch) is the female holly. Here you can see that it looks less like a bush than a scraggly tree. It was awful. 

Botanical note: the female holly is the one that bears the bright red (and poisonous) berries in the winter. For pollination to work and berries to grow, a male holly is needed nearby. Both have tiny white flowers in the spring, but only the female has berries.

We thought about just ripping out both, but the male bush was (and still is) a really nice foundation plant. We could have chopped down the female one entirely, but the red berries were really beautiful in the winter, and the birds loved them as well. (I'm not much of a bird-watcher, but that first winter we saw birds that we had to look up because we had never seen them before.)

So we ended up cutting that thing waaaaaaay back:

This picture doesn't even do it justice, because it has grown back some over the summer. We weren't sure what would happen when we cut it back to two small trunks with just a couple branches left, but it's starting to fill in. We are hoping that with careful pruning we can coax it into a better shape over the next few years. It's not much to look at right now, but when it's surrounded by the other plants in the border in the summer, it's not so bad.

December is the traditional time to prune holly, whether to keep it in shape or to decorate. The bright red berries in winter are really pretty. This winter we have a total of just one berry, though, because we pruned it back so hard this spring:

I left this one out for the lucky bird that finds it later this winter. But I did cut several branches to bring in for holiday decoration:

As you can see, I have literally decked the hall with boughs of holly. (OK, so if you've never been to my house, you'll just have to trust me that this is indeed the center hall: when you come in the front door these doorways are on either side to get to the dining room or living room.)

Working with holly is not actually all that pleasant. The points of the leaves are sharp like thorns, and because the leaves are so stiff that they stab you pretty effectively. Between wiring the branches together, tying the ribbon, and tacking it to the top of the door frames, my hands definitely got cut up. This lead Kirk to comment that maybe "fa la la la la" doesn't actually mean what we think it means, but was really the F-bomb of its time. Makes sense to me!


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