… we still dreſs up both our churches and houses, on Christmas and other festival days, with this cheerful green, and its rutilant berries. [i]
Common Holly (Ilex aquifolium) grows naturally in hedges, woods and forests across Britain and Europe to a height of twenty-five feet. The bark is smooth and grey and the branches create a tapering outline to the tree.
The small bright red berries are borne from about Michaelmas till after Christmas; the glossy green leaves and red berries now being synonymous with Christmas festivities.
The edges of the thick three-inch long oblong leaves are indented with sharp spines. Indeed, Holly was one of several prickly plants used for hedging-in pastures from the fourteenth-century and particularly after The Enclosure Act of 1773.
A hedge of Holly, thieves that would invade,
Repulses like a growing palisade;
Whose numerous leaves such orient greens invest,
As in deep winter do the spring arrest. [ii]
Holly was a popular wood for floral and geometric inlay work in the sixteenth-century and early seventeenth-century. Whiter than box, holly stood out admirably against elm and oak backgrounds.
The timber of the Holly (besides that it is the whitest of all hard woods, and therefore used by the inlayer… [iii]
Season’s greetings to one and all.
[i] John Evelyn, Silva: or, A discourse of forest-trees, and the propagation of timber in His Majesty’s dominions, as it was delivered in The Royal society, on the 15th of October 1662, third edition, volume 1, York, 1801, p. 272.
[ii] Abraham Cowley (1618 – 1667)
[iii] Evelyn, p. 275.