Eric’s Pet Plant: Snowflake Japanese Holly (Ilex crenata ‘Shiro-fukurin’)

Japanese snowflake holly, Ilex crenata ‘Shiro-fukurin’

Eric's Japanese snowflake holly, still a baby at this writing but already quite showy.

Our friend Eric continues to find places to plant new things, in this case a pair of Japanese Hollies that are almost (but not quite, I have to confess) sufficiently dazzling to make me change my mind about randomly variegated plants. But I’m a notorious holdout in this regard. Almost everyone else is bound to be seduced, if not by the picture then by Eric’s description of this plant’s merits, of which there are many besides its looks.

Snowflake Japanese Holly (Ilex crenata ‘Shiro-fukurin’)

By Eric Larson

 There are holly trees. There are holly bushes. There are some hollies with spiny foliage, some with smooth, some that are evergreen and others that are deciduous, some native to this continent and a lot from Asia. Most require good sun exposure (not universally), good soil drainage (although not all) and two differently gendered plants to produce fruit (this last is set is stone species-wide).

I first read about Snowflake Japanese Holly in one of my favorite catalogues, from the Forest Farm outfit in Bend, Oregon. Their very informative print catalogue* is over two hundred pages long, with a huge selection – from the prosaic to the rare –  of woody plants, perennials, grasses, sedges, fruit trees and bamboos.

Each description has enough information to get a plant collector’s fingers itchy for spring planting. Admittedly, the cost of transporting the goods is rather high, and definitely not sustainable in terms of carbon footprint, but you just might have to resort to mail order if you want something rare to fill in that troublesome corner near the door, or that hole in the perennial border that appears every July 26th.

I planted Snowflake Japanese Hollies on either side of the main entrance door and they seem to be doing quite well, in spite of not getting the full sun they would (under ideal circumstances) prefer. I have found that full sun on them spells disaster unless I pay very close attention to watering.

They just don’t like it dry, so I planted them in partial shade, underplanted with hakonechloa, Liriope, Wood Violets and Grape Hyacinths. It’s a workable vignette, I think, though it hasn’t matured to the point where I can say it’s an unmitigated disaster or an unqualified success. They are all thriving, the plants in this little entry garden, so I’m not complaining.

entry garden at Yale's marsh gardens greenhouse

At this stage, "underplanted" doesn't seem like the right word for the perennials, but in time the holly will rise attractively above them.

Entry gardens, in my view, should be simple, have a limited color palette and be functional. They should not block windows, or have spiky foliage scratching legs. Some other points to remember:

* If there may be de-icing chemicals used on entry steps and surfaces, use salt tolerant plants.

* It’s best to avoid plants that don’t like ice build up from dripping eaves and/or overflow from gutters.

* Think carefully before using plants with poisonous berries or those that can cause allergic skin reactions.

Beyond these little notes, the world is your oyster as regards the entry garden (and my idea about limited color scheme is only my opinion: have at it if you like the multitudinous flash of tropical bright colors. It may work for your personality, your house, your neighborhood or the disposition of your town or city). There are few rules here, just sage advice, and you’ve heard mine so back to the plant.

Japanese Holly, Ilex crenata, is a medium-sized evergreen shrub that grows from five to ten feet high with an equal or greater spread. Some authorities say twenty feet high, and that may be in the wild, but I haven’t seen it despite viewing some very mature plantings. They grow slowly to their full size, which makes them perfect for the entry garden: they stay close to the size of your design for quite a while.

And they are quite easy to prune, but if I see another person using electric or even manual hedge shears on a broad-leaved evergreen, I will be driven to taking embarrassing pictures and posting them on the Internet. Please do not do this! The severed pieces of leaf remaining on the plant will turn brown and die. Not picturesque in the least. And come on, the little meatballs spaced at even intervals up to the door of the suburban home would give a beret and a baguette a run for their money in the realm of cliché.

To return once again to our plant, it’s very accommodating in other aspects as well. The straight species of Japanese Holly has a medium to deep green leaf, rounded as opposed to pokey, pointy or pinchy like many other Hollies. They do well in full sun to light shade, in well-drained average garden soil, and they are not particularly pest prone.

The variety ‘Shiro-fukurin’ has green foliage with cream to white spots and dots and splashes, which helps to lighten up a dark corner at any time of year. It also has a great name to drop on unsuspecting guests when giving a tour of your palatial estate. You WILL get a reaction, believe me.

A note about getting carried away (when viewing tempting catalogues):

One must always be wary of falling into the trap called ‘the onesies,’ where your garden has one of everything that appeals, and no sense of order or a definite lack of restfulness. Every gardener has been there with this syndrome. I know I’ve had it bad from time to time, and so must guard against recidivist swoons.

But it is also true that sometimes one is all you need of something, say the Poncirus trifoliata  ‘Flying Dragon’ which I got from Forest Farm some years back and is a knock out in our garden

A reminder: Friday October 28, we at Marsh Gardens will be hosting an Open House and Gala Event, with the Carnivorous Plant Display as the centerpiece. Come join us that evening from five to seven for a Frightfully Good Time! As always, live music, light refreshments and tours of the glass houses will be offered.

* (Forest Farm’s print catalogue is a browser’s delight, but be warned it is innocent of illustration. I wouldn’t be without it, but I’m very glad for the online version’s eversouseful pictures. LL)


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