The first winter spent in the newly remodeled house where we now reside was a time for studying what needed to be added to the landscape in the way of winter interest. Gardening magazine articles were poured over in order to find plants that would give a jolt of winter color. A page was added to the idea book that described a shrub native to our area that had incredible berries lasting into the spring before being devoured by ravenous cardinals. Ilex verticillata, winterberry holly was a must have. While visiting offspring Chickenpoet we went to a nursery that happened to have two nice specimens of a cultivar named I. ‘Sparkleberry’ and the male pollinator needed, I. ‘Apollo’. They were five gallon sized and cost more than I normally would spend, but were purchased and planted in 2002. In 2003, I. ‘Wintergold’ was found at the nursery located on the grounds of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. We traveled to Asheville often to watch offspring Brokenbeat play soccer while he attended the University of North Carolina-Asheville. We bought season passes to the Biltmore since we were there so often, mainly for the privelege of shopping for plant material at the wonderful nursery inside the gates. Not open to the public without paying the steep admission to the grounds which included the house tour, the passes were a luxury but we have several trees and shrubs that we have never seen elsewhere that were found there. After his graduation we dropped the passes, I miss going there, the prices for the plants were very reasonable. This photo taken December 7, 2003 shows the new addition full of berries even though small. We were hoping the pollinator Apollo would bloom at the right time to be able to work the magic to produce the berries on Winter Gold, and it does and it has. The junipers seen here have been removed as the hollies grew larger. Two more young winterberries, I. ‘Berry Heavy’, the last purchases made at Biltmore, have been added at the back and one more I. ‘Apollo’ was added, to give the older gentleman some help. Berry Heavy has not produced flowers again after being hit hard by the Easter killing frost of 2006. There were leaves this year so there is still hope. We hope too that Apollo can pollinate Berry Heavy, he is not the suggested companion for them. (The above photo shows 2003 as the period of the lambs ear lawn.)The berries turn from green to red and gold while the leaves are still green. The reddish foliage at the bottom of the above photo is Azalea ‘Girard’s Rose’.
Hardiness Zones: 3-9
Growth Rate: Slow to moderate
Site Requirements: Sun to partial shade; range of soil types (dry, wet) but prefers moist, organic soil
Form: Oval rounded; twiggy branches; multistemmed clump
Height: 6 to 15′; varies with cultivar
Width: 6 to 10′
Leaf: 1.5 to 3″ alternate, simple leaves; purplish green foliage turns black with first frost
Flower/Fruit: Small white flowers in early summer; small, bright red berries in dense clusters on female plants; persists into winter
Information from the North Carolina State University.
Wintergold is my favorite color for the berries, being my favorite color period. But Sparkleberry has been a steady berry producer every year since planted. We have pruned it hard to let Wintergold catch up to it in size. It may be that the red berry bush is going to grow larger than we had counted on under the limbed up Yoshino cherry tree unless pruned. That is a bad planting practice, but prune we will for the health of trees and shrubs in our front yard.One source for a good selection of winterberry hollies is Forestfarm mail order nursery. I have ordered several things from them and have been pleased with the health and pricing. If you can find potted plants at a local nursery, even better. Or there might still be some at the Biltmore. Maybe, better call ahead.