Ilex 'Mary Nell'

McDaniel hybrid evergreen holly

Fall is planting season! For most trees, shrubs, vines, bulbs and perennials, fall is the best season for planting in the garden. "But, but," you say, "I've just breathed a sigh of relief and put away the tools and untangled that blankety-blank hose for the final time....". Nevermind, just think how fabulous that winter garden will look in February with the Prunus mume flowers dancing against a rich green holly hedge, or how the Hellebores will look in full bloom, or how the bright gold variegated conifers will give you a reason to smile through the sleet. So get those shovels and gloves back out and tell that devilish hose to straighten out and lie right - its planting time again.

Fall is an especially excellent time for planting evergreens of all kinds, both conifers and broadleaved evergreens. These plants then have winter's long cool period with regular rainfall to grow new roots and begin to acclimate to their new environment before experiencing the stress of their first summer in the ground. This is why fall is a popular time to plant evergreen foundation groupings and hedges. But it is important to remember that evergreens can be used in many ways in the landscape in addition to foundations and hedges. One special broadleaved evergreen that is a star no matter how it is used is Ilex x 'Mary Nell', 'Mary Nell' hybrid holly.

This relatively new selection from the famous Tom Dodd Nursery in Alabama, is a lush beauty with three hybrid parents: I. cornuta, the exceptionally tough and heat-tolerant Chinese Holly, I. pernyi: Perny Holly, a common breeding parent with lovely, neat, small foliage, and I. latifolia, Lusterleaf Holly, a large-leaved holly whose broad, blue-green leaves are strikingly unique and attractive. From these three parents, 'Mary Nell' has inherited tough landscape adaptability in the southeast, beautiful large, exceptionally glossy, dark blue-green leaves, a dense, pyramidal to columnar shape, and the tendency to produce prodigious quantities of bright red fruit. In fact, 'Mary Nell' may well outpace 'Nellie Stevens' as a top evergreen holly for southeastern gardens.

This mix of inherited characters translates into a plant with the striking foliage qualities of I. latifolia plus the elegant and refined habit of I. pernyi , the cast-iron landscape performance of I. cornuta, and the fruitfulness of a vigorous hybrid - a tough combination for any other holly to beat. 'Mary Nell' will eventually reach 20 - 25' in height with a moderately formal pyramidal shape and very dense foliage. It will grow well in partial shade but foliage quality and fruiting will be best in full sun. 'Mary Nell' will take almost any soil a curmudgeonly gardener can dish up and thrive beautifully. It is hardy throughout the coast and Piedmont regions of the southeast but may suffer in severe mountain winters. Like most evergreen hollies, 'Mary Nell' is easily propagated from hardwood or semi-hardwood cuttings rooted under mist.

At The NCSU Arboretum (now the JC Raulston Arboretum), 'Mary Nell' holly is a beautiful addition to the West Arboretum, where it never fails to attract attention. 'Mary Nell' will make an exceptionally dark, rich hedge, dramatic corner plant, or formal large container evergreen for a spacious patio or courtyard. 'Mary Nell's' foliage makes a perfect foil for winter flowering and variegated plants as well as adding depth and beauty to the garden in its own right. The cheerful fruit are a welcome addition in winter, not only in the garden and for cut holiday arrangements, but for the hungry birds as well.

As the fall planting frenzy descends upon gardeners and landscapers alike, evergreens are an important part of the year's late planting schemes. As foundation or hedge, mass or specimen, the exceptional 'Mary Nell' hybrid holly brings a whole new dimension to 'evergreen' in southeastern gardens.