The Holly and the Ivy: Foraging for Foliage

Using holly and ivy from the garden in your holiday displays

  • Dec. 3, 2015 5:00 a.m.

Foraged foliage from invasive plants makes for wonderful seasonal displays. From left: English Ivy flowers painted gold; a wreath of juniper

Do you know the British Christmas carol The Holly and the Ivy? It’s from the early 19th century and goes like this: “The holly and the ivy/When they are both full grown/Of all the trees that are in the wood/The holly bears the crown.” It’s a lovely piece of Christian botanical music (from a gardener’s perspective), a reminder of the symbolic history of plants.

Holly still remains at the forefront of seasonal foliage – English holly, Ilex aquifolium. With its red berries and shiny deep green leaves, it’s a simple snip away from a vase and we are, at this time of year, lucky to have it growing locally. But the tree isn’t local at all – holly is an invasive species, capable of throwing deep shade and sucking water away from other plants. English Holly grows rapidly, spreading vegetatively (by sending out shoots) and through seeds.

The plant is a menace, so you should have absolutely no compunction about hacking it to your heart’s desire this holiday season.

Wearing gloves, try making a swag by tying big holly branches with a bow. The berries are poisonous to people and puppies, so consider where you’ll be placing it. Also, burn holly when you’re finished with it (it flares up nicely in the fireplace when dry), or tie it up in a bag for disposal to prevent its spread.

English Ivy, Hedera helix, is also a threat to our native meadows and forests. First brought to Victoria by homesick settlers in the mid-nineteenth century, it now carpets forest floors, smothering trees and shrubs.

Ivy has two stages of growth: the juvenile stage, when it has lobed leaves and adventitious rootlets along its stems, and the non-climbing adult stage, when the leaves lack lobes and rise up to a flower. In winter, the plants flower and right now the peduncles (Scrabble word of the season) can be used for wreath making.

In the spirit of a truly green Christmas, this year I decided to forage for foliage for my wreath. I have a wire frame stuffed with local moss – scrounged as well, but I don’t feel so quite so virtuous about that – and I re-use the same frame every year. When soaked for a few hours in water, the moss perks up. A little green floral wire, some snips, cones, baubles, colourful ribbon, and you’re set to begin. (For an outdoor wreath, you needn’t have a moist moss base; branches bound simply to a frame or grapevine will last outside for a number of weeks.)

When laying on your foliage, remember to work in one direction, following the natural arc of the plant, layering and weaving as you work. If a branch is stubborn, you can always wire it into place.

Despite all my eco-consciousness this year, I couldn’t resist a dash of gold spray paint to glitz up the green.

Try it. You could be asking yourself the same question I did as I stood back to admire my work: Who knew ivy could look so good?

Christin Geall is an Oak Bay gardener and creative non-fiction writing instructor at the University of Victoria.

 

Just Posted

Police seek owner of sailboat beached in Oak Bay

Residents reminded to steer clear of the vessel

Wind warning in effect for Greater Victoria

Strong winds could reach up to 80 km/hr along coastal areas

Heavy snowfall closes Mount Washington for the day

Road to ski resort deemed unsafe, “high avalanche danger”

Whisky society commits to charity donation in wake of whisky raids

Refund of Victoria Whiskey Festival tickets won’t impact charity beneficiaries

High-end whisky seized in B.C. bar raids

Raids end in seizures at Victoria, Nanaimo and Vancouver whisky joints

End stigma to celebrate Alzheimer Awareness Month

Provincial society offers resources for those living with dementia

Liberals quietly tap experts to write new paternity leave rules

Ideas include creating an entirely new leave benefit similar to one that exists in Quebec

Insurers say Canadian weather getting hotter, wetter and weirder

Average number of days with heavy rain or snow across Canada has been outside norm since spring 2013

Final phase of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy trials to kick off in B.C.

Doctors hope to get psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy legalized in Canada and the U.S. by 2021

WHL winning streak ends at four in Kelowna for Victoria

Royals lose 8-4 as Rockets explode offensively

Wind warning back in effect around Vancouver Island

80 km/h winds expected Saturday, Jan. 20, on east coast of Island, 100 km/h on west coast

VIDEO: Thousands join women’s march events across B.C.

Today marks one year since the first Women’s March on Washington

UPDATE: BC Transit’s handyDart service strike delayed

LRB application by contractor means new strike notice must be issued by union

Two Canadians, two Americans abducted in Nigeria are freed

Kidnapping for ransom is common in Nigeria, especially on the Kaduna to Abuja highway

Most Read