Holly Golden King

Two confused variegated Holly bushes, confused! I’ll explain later on.

We have three of the variegated Holly bushes Golden King, the one above is in the main border of the back garden.  I keep this one well trimmed not allowing it to outgrow this position where it brightens up the border in those dreary Winter days.

Golden King first made an appearance in 1898 in Edinburgh, the result of a cutting from Ilex x Hendersonii.

The beautifully shaped leaves have a golden yellow edge, completely free of spines, making pruning so much easier. This evergreen will brighten your garden in the dullest of Winter days.

This much larger one below which is in full shade in the round garden is left very much to its own devices, only getting a tidy up now and again when it starts to get out of control.


Some years it does produce berries, never smothered with them, although perhaps there would be more if it were planted in a sunnier position.  I don’t think Golden King is renowned for producing masses of berries, how does it do in your garden?

Holly Golden King Berries

The third of these Holly bushes is in the woodland garden, this is where I think it looks at its very best, maintained to a height of about six feet.   Last year we felt it was in need of pruning back as it was starting to hide the trunk of the young Acer Griseum. Well I say young but its actually been in the garden for about sixteen years, very slow growing but fabulous peeling cinnamon coloured bark.

Picture below taken on the 9th of January, some of the Ferns are still looking quite fresh.

I mentioned confusion at the beginning of this post, well I know most of you experienced gardeners will be aware that the Holly Golden King, in spite of the name is actually a female plant and the other Holly which I highlight today is named Silver Queen, yes, yes, I know its the male form. Obviously someone had a sense of humour.  However you may well have a holly bush in your garden which you know to be male and have decided to plant a female form which will berry, well I can understand that many people would choose Silver Queen and end up very disappointed.

Golden King will eventually reach a height of 600cm, if left to its own devices or can be kept to the height you desire with selective pruning.

Not everyone is attracted to plants with variegated foliage, this only became clear to me when I started blogging, and although initially I felt why on earth would you not like this, I sort of get it now.  Well it wouldn’t do if we all had the same taste.

The Royal Horticultural Society justifiably gave it the prestigious award of garden merit.

• Pruning – I have pruned Hollies with no ill effect in every season.  My preference is to do it in late Winter when the berries have gone over therefore not affecting the formation of flowers. Secateurs are recommended although I have used shears for shaping up.

• Hardiness – Fully Hardy

• Position – Sun/Shade, Any reasonable free draining soil.

• Height – 600cm, Easy to keep in check.

• Soil – Any reasonable garden soil, moist and free draining

*** Holly golden king  ***



Silver Queen, how many people have you fooled then?

In our garden you started off in a big tub, a grand looking standard form.  After a few years you got rather poorly and actually lost most of your leaves.

I think drainage may have been the problem, anyway I removed it from the tub and planted it in the main border, not feeling all that optimistic.  However it didn’t take that long for recovery to begin.  Its now a very healthy specimen, about five feet tall, the angle of the picture makes it impossible to see that it is on a stem.  I have to take care that it doesn’t get too top heavy.

So, if you are looking to get berries on your Golden King, this prickly male form Silver Queen planted nearby is just the ticket.  Or on the other hand there is another male variegated holly that has the same colouring as Golden King but has prickly foliage and its named Golden Queen, and yes its male, aw lets not go there.

• Mail Order


The garden is more or less dormant at the moment and with little more to say, this is where I intended to sign off.  Only, its just started snowing at 9am on the 14th of January.  Quite heavy actually and within 30 minutes the boring landscape was transformed.  Think I should go outdoors and take some pictures, its 2c/36f, off to get wrapped up, and by the time you see this I will have added some pictures below.



The Daffodil February Gold is coming away nicely.




The Hamamelis braves lower temperatures than this.







 If you happen to leave a comment I will be sure to visit your site and do the same


© 2013 – 2015, Alistair. All rights reserved.

65 thoughts on “Holly Golden King

  1. Hello Alistair
    Thanks for the information about the hollies. I had a few once but they did not last. As you say, it could have been drainage problems. I love them though, they are beautiful.
    BTW – I really like variegated foliage.
    The photos of snow in your garden are terrific! Very interesting with the colour just showing in certain areas.

  2. We also have hollies here but the small-leafed species. I also love variegated plants. Your photos show you are still very cold, we are also having the coolest temps now courtesy of the melting China-Siberian snow. and our coldest is maybe your hottest temps in a year! haha.

  3. Nice snow Alistair! I’m jealous since we’ve had none at all so far this winter. Do you think the gender chaos regarding holly nomenclature is some kind of conspiracy to confuse? I love holly for the winter holidays, and for that use I think the prickly kind is perfect. I have an old huge one– not variegated queen or king just all green. Suppose it could be pruned as well?

    1. Linnie, snow is nice to look at for a short time, doesn’t usually last long here, fingers crossed. Whatever the reason it certainly is confusing. I do like the all green Holly bushes especially smothered with berries.

  4. I think everything looks better with snow on it. From a sample of blogs, I think the mid-Atlantic US is the only place in the northern parts of the world without snow right now. I bought 3 Nellie Stevens hollies plus the appropriate male. No berries for 15 years. This year I noticed a few berries on all four plants—that’s the problem!!!

  5. Great info, Alistair! I don’t have a holly anymore, since I had my huge holly tree taken down just before Christmas. I don’t miss it (yet), I am still picking holly leaves and probably will do so for years to come…I love variagated leaves though, didn’t know anyone could not like that 🙂

    We got our first snow yesterday, didn’t amount to much but created the usual chaos!
    Take care, Helene.

  6. I love your snowy photos Alistair, they demonstrate what great structure your garden has as well as being beautiful in their own right. As one of those not keen on variegation, you will no doubt be amused to hear that I have inherited a “Silver Queen” holly, although it is currently a sad fat trunk, cut to 5′, with half a dozen sprays of leaf to demonstrate what it is. I am hoping that a neater prune will enable it to recover, since hollies have been known to live for over a hundred years, regularly hard pruned.

  7. It’s all a bit confusing, in a funny sort of way! Best to plant a king with a queen then when it comes to variegated Holly, at least you know one is definitely a male and one female so you’ll get the berries. And those Hollies looks like they light up their own spot. You garden looks lovely even with snow 🙂

  8. Alistair your garden wears its winter coat quite well and how lovely your pictures…you actually have more snow and are colder than we are but that will change tomorrow again and we are headed for snow and frigid cold…the variegated hollies are beautiful and how funny their names!

  9. I’ve one holly – kindly introduced to the garden by a bird! Male or female I haven’t a clue though I suspect it’s a female as there are plenty of the bushes growing wild nearby with berries each year……..let’s hope there’s a male close to my garden too!

    I’m surprised to see your Pallida out in flower already – mine has just got 3 little ribbons showing.

    1. Hi Rosie, the Hamamelis which we have is Arnolds Promise, it may flower a little earlier, I am not sure. Although the stems are smothered with blooms its not as advanced as the close up may suggest. The flowers are tiny and will develop a lot larger in the next few weeks.

  10. The daffodils in the pot look like a cake with candles on it! 🙂 As for hollies, I love them, although I don’t have a lot of different varieties. They all seem to be tough and will forgive a lot of mistakes. Love that in a plant!

  11. I love variegated foliage plants and I like to put them up against different coloured foliage such as silver or pink. Your hollies are looking fabulous.

  12. The Hamamelis looks great with a topping of snow! I love holly – it is such a workhorse in the garden, yet so beautiful. Good luck with the weather – we have had snow for nearly a week in Norfolk and some of our evergreen shrubs look worryingly stressed.

  13. Alistair – great profile on these plants. You managed to ‘hightlight’ two plants on my wish list in this blog. Golden King and a Witch Hazel. Now I’ve seen Silver Queen, I’m in a quandry. Berries I’m not too fussy on as there are plenty on JC Van Tol!
    Super pictures of your ‘winter wonderland’ up there!

  14. I do love your garden, Alistair! It looks beautiful any time of the year! The winter pictures are awesome!
    I didn’t plant any holly plants in my garden, but I have several baby plants which came from…. I guess, neighbours.

  15. I can enjoy the pleasure of your holly ,2winters ago our 20+ holly split and died .

    So I no longer have but have replaced with many foliage shrubs .

    And our garden like many others is under a rather large blanket of snow.

  16. Hi Alistair! Honestly I’ve always been pretty messed up about sex and I am so glad to find out that those holly-growers were too!
    Your garden covered in snow looks beautiful, the central tree on the second picture is amazing!
    No signs of snow around here, I guess winter is over now.

  17. I have never seen a variegated plant I did not love. I don’t have any English hollies, but I would love these two, despite their confused sexual identities! Your snowy landscape photos are gorgeous. We actually had a brief snowfall here last week. Sadly, I was at work and missed it!

  18. Beautiful snow pictures, I can only dream of my garden looking like that… I love variegated foliage and your holly shrubs look great. Funny about the names :), I recently bought musk strawberry plants and am now trying to figure out which are female, male or hermaphrodite :).

  19. Oh, that’s kind of mean to mix those Kings and Queens! I actually prefer the Silver Queen with his more white variegation. Very pretty!

    And your landscape is absolutely breathtaking with the snow!

  20. Hi Alistair, those are some beautiful-looking hollies. We just have a small plain form that’s growing through a larger shrub (it was probably planted by a bird). I like variegated forms but am wary that they might revert or grow weakly. There are instances where the flowers produced by variegated plants look better on the original coloured foliage. Hosta breeding has turned variegation into an art form.

  21. And my first question was, what’s the witch hazel called, tha Ks for replying above. Gorgeous hollies, if a tad confusing in their naming. Must remember these, they really do brighten up a spot don’t they, wouldn’t have known about the drainage, so glad you said.

    The snow looks great, I was gong to moan we had none, but last week we got a share which has all but gone. I’m seeg daffies peeking up here, sure sign of great things to come.

    Lovely post alistair….

  22. There you go Alistair… now you’re starting to look like Wisconsin! We’re getting another seven inches today and possibly the same on Monday again… With the foot in the yard and lots of deep drifts, the plants will be snug for sometime to come!
    I wish we could grow more hollies here although I am having some luck with the Meserve plants. I was looking at the date of this post… so odd as I’m just now receiving it over a month later than posted!

  23. I bought a golden king for the centre of an 18 ft flowerbed to give it some height. But I am worried it may get very bushy and take over. Can it be pruned to keep it fairly compact? Does male variety need to be fairly close to pollinate female?

  24. Please help taken years to get holly going do not know variety at the moment it is 6 ft with varigated leaves and red rims to leaves. How do I trim as it’s growing tall and sparse

    1. Hello Lisa, This is a good time to trim back Holly. Just take a pair of secateurs and get stuck in. You can prune quite hard back which should help rejuvenate the plant Not so happy regarding the sparse leaves though..

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