Think Holly. Think Danger. No, that’s not the case with ‘Gentle’, the newest and friendly Holly you can grow!
It certainly lives up to its name with the same crisped (some might say festive!) look, but with softer, less dominant prickles.
This Holly also has the much sought-after purple blue tinge to its foliage during the colder months of the year, when Holly has the most demanded of it. It’s no coincidence that Ilex ‘Gentle’ is our December Plant of the Month!
How was this plant created?
The original Meserve Holly selections were bred by Mrs Leighton Meserve of New York by using two species, Ilex rugosa (a Prostrate Holly, low, compact and a little spreading- sounds like my stomach!) and Ilex aquifolium (the well-known English Holly, a large tree holly). This marriage brought together cold hardiness and berrying beauty! Since her original introductions, there have been many additions to the family, which we call the “Blue Holly Family”.
Nurseryman Andre van Nijnatten specialises in shrubs and has a special love of Holly. Like many of our Plant of the Month creators, he spends a lot of time with large populations of plants. This can make you quite observant, as any small change in a batch becomes very noticeable. Andre soon spotted a much more compact Ilex x meservae in his nursery beds. Not only was it retaining the blue-green tinge all winter, but it also had less developed prickles, so didn’t require gloves to handle it!
What’s different about this plant?
As with every Plant of the Month, this plant will surprise you! ‘Gentle’ doesn’t only have that effervescent blue-green foliage, but also spring displays of frothy flowers in the spring! Not forgetting the inoffensive prickles on the foliage! The habit is also more ‘gentle giant’ than ‘giant’, with a manageable height of just 75cm. We are thinking of doubling it up as a patio Christmas tree for sure!
As a male Holly, it’s an initiator of berries in accompanying female varieties, but alas cannot produce them on itself. However, there’s plenty else to keep your attention year round!
Where can you plant Ilex ‘Gentle’?
At 75cm tall and 50cm wide, Ilex ‘Gentle’ slots nicely into all manner of planting situations- from patio pots to borders. And, as the saying goes, a Holly is not just for Christmas! Ilex ‘Gentle’ keeps great shape all year, and with spring flowers and a summer glow, it definitely earns its place!
Where can you buy this plant?
Plants are not yet available in garden centres or by mail order, but watch this space!
How to grow Ilex ‘Gentle’:
Flowering time: April to May
Location: Borders, patio pots
Soil: Any well-drained soil
Light: Sun to part shade
Hardy: Survives down to -20C! Plant are evergreen, best colour comes with cold!
Care: Prune in early summer, just to keep shape and tidy up!
Size: 75cm (30”) high x 50cm (20”) in spread
Plant of the Month is sponsored by Plantipp, a company based in The Netherlands who handle the introduction of new plants into Europe (with Concept Plants doing the same job in North America). Ilex ‘Gentle’ was selected by Nurseryman Andre van Nijnatten.
It can actually be quite easy to spot new plants, as nature often does the breeding work for you! Natural variation is referred to as a ‘sport’, or you may find a new hybrid has appeared in your garden by itself. To hunt down these new plants, it’s all about noticing differences. Make sure you take time out to get to know the plants in your garden, and if any seem different to the norm, let me know!
See every Plant of the Month here.
Michael has been involved with gardening and plants since he was just five years old. He is a self-professed Plant Geek, and was listed in the Sunday Times top 20 most influential people in the gardening world, thanks to his plant hunter role at Thompson & Morgan.
Michael was responsible for new plant introductions such as the Egg and Chips plant and the FuchsiaBerry and keeps busy travelling the world in search of new plants as well as lecturing worldwide, including stints in Japan. He is very active on social media – so why not give him a follow at @mr_plantgeek or Facebook – and writes a plant-focused Substack called Grow This, Not That.