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TideWriters Tales
The Colonial Virginia Chapter of the Holly Society of America Celebrates Ten Years
By Zachary Loesch

     The Holly Society of America, a nationwide group of holy enthusiasts, meets annually in the fall. Meetings feature informative lectures, plant auctions, sprig contests and exchanges of cuttings. The Colonial Virginia Chapter meets twice a year, in the spring and fall, at locations in eastern Virginia. The fall meeting, in November 2001, celebrated the tenth anniversary of the chapter. This meeting, held at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, featured a slide show and lecture by Linda Pinkham, co-owner of Smithfield Gardens. Linda is a former extension agent and has appeared on Home and Garden Television, a cable network program. 

     Her lecture about unusual hollies available for the landscape was followed by a slide show presented by George McClellan, who spoke about gardens he had visited in Ireland, Wales and England. According to Sid Sterling, hollies are easy to grow, easy to propagate and provide food for birds and animals with the berries they produce. Peggy McComb said that there are about seventy memberships in the local chapter, but that some of these are family memberships and represent the participation of more than one person.

     Linda Pinkham began her talk by saying that many people who plant hollies in front of their houses do not realize how big hollies get and that the plants, unless pruned, will often get too big. Often used in hedges or as a substitute for boxwoods, hollies often behave more like trees than shrubbery. With this in mind, specific types of hollies may be selected for specific purposes in the landscape. While some lend themselves to use as rectangular hedges, others work better as pyramidal tree shapes. Similarly, some thrive best in wet conditions while others are drought tolerant. The cornuta and yaupon hollies were recommended for dry conditions while a variety appropriately named, Niagra, does best in wet areas. Linda recommends the Burford hollies for hedges and screens because their prickly leaves turn away people and animals that attempt to go through them. Linda points out that not all hollies are green year round, that some lose their leaves in winter and some even have yellow leaves or yellow halos or edges. The variegated varieties are striped. A Bordeaux yaupon features new red growth that is quite striking in the garden. 

     Among the interesting bits of advice shared by Linda was the information that a chemical spray is now available to prevent the growth of suckers or small branches at the base of hollies, crepe myrtles and cherry trees. Another interesting fact is that a variety of holly was ingested as an emetic by Native Americans after feasting. Linda likes the ordinary American holly because it grows quickly and produces lots of berries. She noted that the Savannah variety is often used at new home sites for these same reasons. Linda says that people should go to their local nurseries and garden centers with their requests for special orders in winter in order to have their plants delivered in spring.

     George McClellan spoke about the beauty of Irish gardens. He indicated that much of Ireland’s soil, especially along the coastline, is quite acidic. Only in the interior counties did he find a soil that contained lime and required the use of different plants other than the traditional camellias and rhododendrons. According to George, Irish tradition has it that the peasants look down to see what is wrong while the gentry look up to see what is right. He showed numerous examples of hollies, azaleas, boxwoods and yews in Irish gardens along with many annual and perennial flowers. One of his favorite Irish gardeners is quoted as saying that the passing years did not make him wiser, rather, only more reckless and impractical. The kitchen gardens of fruits and herbs are overshadowed by the extravagant robin’s nest gardens in which exotic and native species are planted together in a naturalistic setting first suggested by Edwin Robinson, a Victorian era English gardener who championed a natural look as an alternative to the formal gardens of Renaissance and Baroque times. George says that roses and lilacs are seen as often in Irish gardens as they are in English gardens. George showed a picture of a wooden bench in an Irish garden that featured a wheel on the end of one side, much like a wheelbarrow, so that it might be moved around the garden to admire different views as seasons changed and brought different plants into bloom. 

     The most impressive Welsh and English gardens described by Mr. McClellan were those based on French and Italian designs from the Renaissance. These often featured temples and grottos much like the Roman gardens of classical antiquity. Bits of Roman sculpture or ruined pieces of classical columns often serve as central focal points for sharply defined outdoor ‘rooms’ or portions of the landscape. George maintains that extensive stonework is invariably found in the gardens of the British Isles, even in the newer ones that have pebble beds instead of the old-fashioned stone or slate walkways.

     After lunch and a plant auction, Denise Greene and Dr. Bill Roberts led their guests on a tour of the teaching marsh at VIMS, an area where many colorful native flowering plant species are displayed. The blanket flower, marsh asters and sea ox eyes greet the visitor at the beginning of the trail. Dr. Bill explained that a buffer zone of native species of plants on a gentle incline is often the best protection against erosion in tidal areas. Denise spoke about the practical value of individual species such as the saltwort, used as a food seasoning during colonial times or the sweet flag, used on floors of that time instead of carpeting. It smells nice and is easily replaced with fresh cuttings. The arrow arum plant, commonly known as tuckahoe, has a root that was boiled and eaten by poor White people in Virginia of the 1800s. Poor White Virginians were often termed, ‘tuckahoes,’ at that time, just as people from North Carolina are sometimes called, ‘tarheels,’ because the pine trees of that state furnished tars and resins used in ship building of a bygone era.

     Anyone interested in learning more about the Colonial Virginia Chapter of the Holly Society of America is encouraged to contact Peggy McComb at 804-642-2449. Anyone interested in purchasing native plants for the garden is encouraged to phone Denise Greene at 804-642-0923. 

© 2002 Zachary Loesch All Rights Reserved

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