After retiring from the U. S. Postal Service, I had to recover from several health problems. After I improved, I began the project of landscaping.
I worked alone the majority of the time. Although Oscar had retired from the postal service before I did, he was working elsewhere. I had a vision of what I wanted, but nothing was set in stone. I paint with oils on canvas, and landscape paintings have been some of my best work. While I was on crutches after foot surgery, I sat in a swing on our new front porch and painted the type of landscape I wanted — but only in my mind, not on canvas.
Some of the very first plants I purchased were hollies, because they resembled boxwoods, but their shape was more easily maintained. I wanted a type of shrub that would hold its foliage winter and summer, and the “Compacta” holly filled the bill.
One of the first plants we removed when we moved here was a Chinese holly planted alongside the front stoop. The shrub was quite pretty with its evergreen foliage and red berries, but after overlapping the front steps, the shrub became quite annoying and dangerous with its sharp prickly leaves. After being scratched by the leaves a few times, Oscar, using a chain attached to his truck, pulled the plant from the ground. I knew from the beginning that I did not want that type of holly.
I soon found out that the type of holly I had been admiring was a Japanese holly, the “Compacta,” which is a group of globe-shaped hollies. The foliage of a Japanese holly is much smaller, with no prickly edges and very soft to the touch. The plant resembles a boxwood shrub, but is more easily maintained and the plant grows much faster. In the 17 years since my hollies were planted, I have never pruned them. I planted a row of “Compacta” hollies in front of the lowest raised planting bed on the front slope. I also planted a row in front of a circular-shaped planting bed along the right side of our driveway. These plants make a permanent year-round perimeter for our slope garden, and they require very little maintenance.
A few smaller hollies are planted along the front sidewalk. All of these hollies require no pruning and they grow in a perfect globe shape. I seldom fertilize the shrubs, and they survive with the amount of natural rain we receive, even during droughts. I lost several shrubs during the drought a couple of years ago, but not one of the “Compacta” hollies were affected at all.
My Japanese hollies are planted in well-drained, slightly acidic soil, in full sun. But from everything I have read about them, they are tolerant of most growing conditions. They are tough, beautifully shaped plants.
Carol (Bonnie) Link is an Etowah County Master Gardener and an experienced garden writer. Her weekly column is designed to help and encourage others in their gardening endeavors. Send questions or comments to email@example.com.