HOLLY is a wind, salt, and rabbit-proof shrub, and there are many splendid varieties from which to choose.
In decades past gardeners would have been aware of these, and the plant's other hidden connotations.
Today, holly’s virtues seem to be somewhat disregarded, and the young and already balding have little interest in Christian tradition and folklore.
But holly and ivy still hold special interest and meaning for many, especially on the approach to Christmas.
As evergreens, they represent the unchanging, and the immortality contained within the promise of Christmas.
They are the outside world brought indoors; they are Nature - God's handiwork - carried into our midst and made relevant to everyone.
Sad to relate, holly varieties rarely receive the merit they deserve as a garden plant.
There are over 700 varieties available, varying in size, shape, and colour, but only a handful are rated as worthy of a spot in the garden.
This is rather a pity for a suitable holly can be found for even the smallest garden, providing year-round colour and interest.
You'll have to put up with prickly leaves of course, but it's not every day that you'll be working around these or cutting pieces to bring indoors.
The best forms for a small garden include those with richly variegated foliage and names which would have you believe that sex discrimination between plants never existed.
Golden King, for example, is a wonderful variety which has glossy leaves of dark green, heavily marked with bright yellow, but it's a female which needs the company of a male to produce masses of vivid scarlet berries during winter.
Then there's a male form called Silver Queen, which has a delicate tracery of silver around its leaf margins, making it one of the best foliage plants you could possibly encounter.
Both together would make a splendid sight when lit up by the sharp winter sun, whilst the area about their bases could be further enhanced with either the autumn flowering cyclamen called ‘neapotitanum’ or pure white snowdrops in late winter.
Variegated forms, it should be noted, require full sun to maintain their exceptional colouring.