It’s too soon to deck the halls with boughs for Christmas.
But throughout the countryside, in woodlands, parks and formal gardens it is a glorious year for holly with experts claiming it is the best year since the Millennium.
The rich red berries even appeared on the nation’s favourite festive evergreen up to four weeks early this year and some spectacular displays were spotted in September when fruiting usually occurs mid-autumn.
The exceptional year for holly berries has been reported by conservationists at the Royal Horticultural Society, the National Trust and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.
In north Yorkshire at RHS Harlow Carr, curator Paul Cook, said: “Holly is having its best year since the turn of the the 21st century,” and in the south-west at RHS Rosemoor, Torrington, Devon, which houses a national collection of holly, curator Jonathan Webster, said there were “the best berries I’ve ever seen in my 15 years at the garden.”
There is an old wives tale that an abundance of early berries heralds a harsh winter so Britain should prepare for a big freeze. There is no scientific evidence for this, however, and the heavy clusters of scarlet fruit this year is explained by last year’s hot dry summer.
The lack of rainfall put trees under stress so they have activated their survival mechanisms and fruited prolifically to ensure survival.
Anne Tolfree, senior gardener at the Stowe , the Trust’s Capability Brown landscape garden in Buckingham, said the very good year for berries was due to “a combination of warm weather and rain at the start of autumn that has produced the fantastic display, the best for a long time.”
Absence of frost in the spring with plenty of bees to pollinate the flowers also created the ideal conditions for the red fruit, Tony Kirkham, Kew’s head of arboretum, said.
At the RHS flagship garden Wisley, which has 215 holly varieties in flower Guy Barter, the society’s chief horticulturist, said there were also “huge numbers of wild holly full of berries.”
Andy Eddy, head gardener at the Trust’s Osterley Park and House, west London, said:”It’s a very good year for berrying hollies and probably the best in a generation,” and at the Trust’s Winkworth Arboretum in Surrey, which has a Holly Wood, head gardener Graham Alderton said,” I’d expect a few berries by mid autumn but to have trees covered already is quite unusual.”
While at the Trust’s Victorian Gothic country estate Tyntesfield, Bristol, berrying on its holly walk, one of the property’s most iconic views, was noticed early in September.
There used to be a tradition of decorating doors and windows with holly to keep out evil spirits, but abundance of holly is also linked in folklore with fertility.
The conundrum now is whether this visual berry feast will last until Christmas for our decorations or the onset of cold weather will see branches denuded by birds.
One tip is to cut holly early, plunge in water, store in a cool place and mist regularly.