The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space


holly in jug“Holly is at a premium this year. Especially holly with berries.”
Alistair was laying branches of holly on the lawn of the house where I was working last week. All the holly that was removed was to be given to me. David, the owner of the house, had left detailed instructions for Alistair. Our eyes drifted to the small pile of holly on the lawn
“A small bunch like this,” he rounded his arms loosely to underline his point,
“would fetch £80 wholesale if it had berries on.”

I was astonished. I checked for berries. My holly had none. It was simply too late in the season

A few days earlier David had told me of his plans to remove all the holly bushes from the garden. I was on instant alert and unthinkingly blurted out that it’s unlucky to cut down holly.
He spun round, his face concerned.
“My mum always says that a farmer would never cut it down.”
We stood surveying the holly trees. One established tree and two young ones, barely a metre tall.

It was one of those tricky moments. No one wants to live their life according to superstition. But we are doing up his house to get the best possible sale price and why rock the boat. Embarrassed about my remark, I wanted to slink away. After a long pause David turned to me.
“We will keep the big holly tree. From now on it will be known as Fiona’s Holly. We will dig up the small bushes and they are for you.”

Tactful, circumspect and generous.

So armfuls of holly adorn the cottage this Christmas. The red berries are from a couple of unknown shrubs that were also removed from his garden.

Traditional for centuries at this time of year, our jug of holly is simply stunning and has given us enormous pleasure.

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  1. Hi, I posted on here last year re my Holly tree, I was scared to cut it down because of the bad luck! We trimmed the tree back, but having looked the roots are now undermining the house! We need to cut it down or dig it up, the latter option not being easy, its well established, we have a large garden at the rear of our house, so could replant it, but if i took a cutting and grew another tree from that would i still be cursed with bad luck for cutting it down?? Thanks! Jan

  2. Hi,
    We have just moved into an Oast House, its lovely but it has a huge Holly Tree / bush growing outside the front door, after reading the above I am scared to cut it down! However can someone tell me if it is ok to Trim the tree and cut it down in size as its dominating the house, I love Holly and we have loads in our big garden, this Christmas my house will also be adorned with it!
    I dont want to destroy it I am all for keeping trees! However its far too huge to dig up and replant, any advice would be good!

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Jan

      The guy who sold the house and got rid of most of the holly bushes mentioned in the post got a good £40,000 more than expected so don’t feel constrained. I have a self seeded holly tree that I need to move and I’ll shift it within the next month. But I’ll not burn it!

      If you clip your holly tree hard it will burst into life on a smaller scale.

      The holly tree superstition is just that. But if I was you I would just clip it very hard back. Cut out at least two thirds of growth and enjoy the new growth.

  3. Fiona Nevile

    Hello Malcom

    I can’t tell you the reason why but no Eglish farmer would ever takeout a holly tree and burn it. In fact I have a seedling that is groing in ‘the wrong place’ here. I plan to move it and wouldn’t consider burning it.

    Would love to her your reserch if you continue this quest!

  4. Can anybody tell me WHY it is bad luck to cut a holly tree? I have read that it is bad luck to cut down a whole holly tree.

    So far I have levelled (about a couple of feet from the ground) one of three trunks of the same holly tree. I had help in the last stages from the farmer farming the land which surrounds my house and garden (in mid-Wales) and I have two more trunks to go. (I intend to cut them about 15 feet from the ground and allow them to bush out from the top.) After he had finished with the chain saw he said that it was bad luck to cut down a holly tree and also bad luck to burn the top branches on a bonfire. When I asked him what I was to do with the straggly branches, he replied that I could do what I wanted with them. But that’s just how “ornery” he is!

  5. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Joanna,

    I am so sorry, your comment got caught in the spam filter!

    How interesting that no one would cut down the hedge! I am so pleased that you saved the hedge.

    I loaded the holly onto the, already full, front seat of Jalopy and had a very prickly drive home!

    Thanks so much for the tip on the holly berries – I had no idea that holly can survive for weeks in a shed.

  6. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Mildred

    We found the jug in an inglenook in the fireplace when we were clearing the room for Christmas. It has always lived there and I reckon it now will have a new life as a flower container.

    The picture behind is a favourite print that Danny bought on Ebay. It’s a detail from an old painting of a Min Pin wearing a collar of bells.

    Hi Kay,

    Lucky you having lots of berries. You could have made your fortune this Christmas! I love holly hedges. And you’re right, holly does deter burglars.

    Aparently a lot of insects enjoy the protection of the leaves during the winter.

    Hi Kate(uk)

    We didn’t have many berries this year and these disappeared during that first cold snap. For the first time ever, I saw a squirrel eating berries in Cambridge this Christmas.

    One of the Cambridge holly bushes has a root, so I’m going to plant it next to the big holly tree in the front garden.

    I wanted to make a holly wreath this year but ran out of time!

    Totally agree. I hated evergreens when I was young and now love them, with the exception of Leylandii.

  7. I have some berries this year, but nowhere near the quantity we had last year. Absolutely agree, do not cut down holly, very bad luck, allegedly. I’ve always wanted to have a holly tree and in my current garden I do have quite a large one- means I can have lots of vases of holly at christmas and make bunches and wreaths for friends.I’ve planted a couple of variagated hollies to keep it company. I was never keen on evergreens when I was young, but now I’m older I really enjoy them.

  8. Kay Sexton

    We’ve got loads of berries on ours … and it keeps burglars away, which is one sensible reason for growing it against house walls and not cutting it down.

  9. We adore holly too Fi, yours looks lovely in that jug! And what a super picture hanging behind it!!

  10. I had a little house with a tiny tiny front garden which was dominated by a huge holly bush which never had berries – but I knew about the superstition, and, though not superstitious, couldn’t get anyone to help me cut down the holly. So in the end, we dug it up, loaded into the back of my friend’s convertible Morris Minor, and drove it to a country garden where we planted it. It survived, and we felt much better for saving it.

    Incidentally, if you want berries on your Christmas holly, cut the branches when you see berries, even if that is in October. Then put them in a bucket of water somewhere cold/sheltered, like a garage. Provided you keep the water topped up, the berries will last. I forgot to do it this year, when there were SO many berries in November … but the birds had eaten the lot by December. NEver mind, the birds give me so much pleasure in the garden that I don’t begrudge them.

    Happy New Year

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