Decking the halls with boughs of holly is a Christmas tradition that goes back centuries, rooted in Pagan times and plays a pivotal role in Christianity. The prickly leaves represent the crown of thorns that Jesus wore at his crucifixion and the berries are the drops of blood shed by Jesus. Celtic people of pre-Christian Ireland and England used holly extensively, decorating their homes throughout the Winter Solstice, and Druids thought hollies had mystical powers. Seen as a powerful fertility symbol and a charm to ward off witches and ill-fortune, holly was often planted near homes for this reason. McLean Nurseries in Parkville, Maryland has a plethora of different varieties of holly planted around the property, so they must have only good luck there!
The genus Ilex is a popular winter evergreen in gardens, and is easy to grow on any well-drained soil. Grown as a free-standing small specimen tree is common, but it’s ability to resprout from cut stems makes it an ideal hedge plant. The berries are a key part of the holly’s charm, and can come in a range of colors, like yellow, orange and different shades of red. Deciduous hollies, Ilex verticillata, lose their leaves in the fall to display tightly packed berries clothing the stems.
McLean Nurseries has grown hollies on their nine acres for over 70 years. Many Ilex introductions originated here with the best known one Ilex opaca, ‘Satyr Hill’, named for the street the nursery is on. I planted a hedge of ‘Satyr Hill’ three years ago to create a wind break at the back of my property and I love this variety for its toughness, beauty, and ease of growth. Bill Kuhl, the owner of McLean, grows more than 100 cultivars of Holly and lots of varieties of the deciduous ones, Ilex verticilatta. Other shrubs like Boxwood, Hydrangea, Viburnum, and native perennials are sold at McLean and garden clubs are welcome to tour the nursery.
Propagating cuttings in cold frames, many thousands of hollies are grown and sold every year at McLean. The busiest time of year at McLean is Christmas, with the business of decorating hundreds of Balsam Fir wreaths for the public and churches. Visiting McLean recently to see the beautifully designed wreaths that will end up far and wide in the Baltimore area, I love to see the varieties of holly and greens that create a Tapestry of Holly. A great nursery that keeps a low profile, McLean has introduced many new cultivars to the trade that are widely used today and have attained ‘Holly of the Year’ status.
Wreath Making Process
Wreath making is serious business at McLean. Starting with a base of Balsam Fir, different varieties of greens, including the much-loved holly are layered in to make a lush looking wreath. Inserting picked greens into the base allows you to mix and match all different colors and textures into a wreath. No glue is used. Handwork which is very labor intensive makes the McLean wreaths both beautiful and special, but are resonably priced.
Workers at McLean use an old-fashioned pick machine which attaches a metal pin around a flower stem making it easier to insert into the balsam fir base. I have one of these hard to find contraptions and it is ingenious in making mixed picks of florals quickly and efficiently.
Wreaths are all hand crafted and range in size from 14″ to a huge wreath that can measure 36″ in size for large areas. Green holly, variegated holly, winterberries, incense cedar, blue-berried juniper, magnolia, andromeda, boxwood, and false cypress are inserted using picks. Next pine cones, fruits, and other pods are added. Space for a gorgeous bow is left on the wreath, with the bow wired on as the final touch.
Made to order for people who visit every year to pick up their special wreath, each one is unique.
Ribbon is like icing on the cake. Wired, wide ribbon with big loopy bows and lavish tails is essential to make a wreath stand out from the crowd. Red is a favorite, but gold is right up there in popularity.
If you want to order your own hand-made wreath or deck your halls with fresh greens, drive over to 9000 Satyr Hill Rd, in Parkville, Maryland before Christmas. Wreaths, swags, boxwood trees, centerpieces, and greens are reasonably priced and guaranteed to create an instant festive touch to your home.
Patronizing independent nurseries, not big box store chains, is an important part of my shopping for plants. A totally different shopping experience greets me as I walk in the door and you will find knowledgeable and eager to please owners and workers. The plant selection is quite eclectic with little gems that you wouldn’t find anywhere else.
Also, the plants are taken care of and not neglected like I see too many times at big box stores. Mainstream garden centers and big box stores tend to stick with the tried and true, afraid to plant “outside the pot” for fear that customers won’t buy something different.
But as a plant lover, there are so many new varieties and cultivars out there to try, I think that the more to choose from the better. I do love Petunias, Verbenas, and Sweet Potato Vine, but there are so many alternatives available to create something a bit different from your neighbor.
Abutilons or Flowering Maples caught my eye as I entered Blooming Hill Greenhouse, in Parkton, MD and I had to stop and admire this treasure that will be sure to attract hummingbirds to your garden.
Tucked away off a winding country road, you would never know the greenhouse was there until you stop at a bottom of a hill and spot the small sign. After turning up a steep driveway through woods dotted with Azaleas and other woodland plants, you know you are in for a treat. Greeted by 3 medium size poly greenhouses at the crest of the hill, there are always outdoor selections on tables to slow your journey into the mix of living, breathing, beautiful plants.
Brimming with treasures, the usual and unusual that you never see anywhere, and hanging and moss baskets everywhere, Blooming Hill is full of surprises. I enter like a kid in a candy shop and want one of everything. Or even better, three of everything! Also carrying tons of herbs and vegetable plants, this is a one stop nursery to fill your place with color.
Begonias of all colors and sizes fill Blooming Hill as one of Jo Troy’s favorite plants. She told me that she never met a Begonia she didn’t like! I have to agree with that as I survey the selections of Begonias.
Blooming Hill Greenhouse
As a landscape designer, if I have a customer who wants to create their own containers but needs help with selection and colors, I send them to Blooming Hill for their expertise and advice. Owner Jo Troy is patient and helps customers personally select their plants to take home or if you bring in your container to the greenhouse, she will customize your planter for a very reasonable cost. Her daughter Millie is also sought after as a designer of masterpieces in a pot.
A plantaholics’s dream come true, Blooming Hill specializes in the creation of “moss baskets”, hanging baskets planted around the entire circumference of the “moss” covering in a wire basket. Requiring many plants to fill in the stuffed balls, and time to grow in, the moss baskets are works of art.
See how Jo creates these masterpieces from scratch.
All plant lovers and collectors will find something to ooh and aah over and take home with no location in mind, but thinking that you can’t do without it! Still selling well- filled market packs, the most economical way to buy plants, I splurge on zinnias, vinca, and other annuals to fill my beds for the summer.
So, if you are in the Baltimore area, check out their upcoming open house at 18700 Frederick Road in Parkton, MD, April 30 & May 1st, 2016 from 9AM to 4PM. If you go to the open house, please tell Jo that Claire sent you!