Unsung Hero of the Mini Garden:
The Dwarf Japanese Holly
The Garden Designer’s Round Table discussion this week focused on the “underused” plants that you can trust to perform, are beautiful unto themselves but often go unnoticed in a garden full of flowers and vegetables. In the miniature garden world, the Dwarf Japanese Hollies are the unsung hero’s and it’s not often that we have two of our favorites available at the same time here at Two Green Thumbs Miniature Garden Center.
The Dwarf Japanese Holly is nothing like the holly that we are used to seeing around the winter holidays. It’s a reliable dwarf tree that can easily blend with other evergreens, or stand alone as a majestic little tree in the wee landscape. The two different types, the Dwarf Pagoda and the Sky Pencil, open up a number design possibilities for the miniature gardener.
The Dwarf Pagoda is an exquisite tree with a traditional branching habit, it can easily emulate a tiny fruit tree in the mini garden. Tight, round dark green leaves perch on the wee branches and look like rosettes. In any other part of the garden, the flowers are deemed “insignificant” but in the miniature garden the flowers are just icing on the cake. And if the plant is really happy, the flowers will turn to light green berries in the middle of summer.
The Dwarf Pagoda grows from 1/2″ per year to 2″ per year depending upon where it is grown. Warmer States to the south will experience a little faster growth rate than more temperate regions like here in Seattle. Prune the straight stems early to encourage more branching. Note that older and bigger Dwarf Pagodas are valued up to $100 in some nurseries.
The Sky Pencil is a gem for the mini garden as well. The tall, column shape can be used in multiples to line the back of the mini garden bed, define a fairy path or to accent a long driveway in the railroad garden. Use one with a miniature or dwarf conifer – the light, water and soil requirement are the same for a number different evergreens and they are a great pairing for that “realistic garden-y” look. The leaves are about 3/8” long and the stems constantly reach up to the sky – thus the name. The flowers are about the same tiny flowers found on the Dwarf Pagoda and berries are dark purple.
These two hollies are outdoor trees and are cold hardy to about -20F (or -5F if planted in a pot). The American Horticultural Society’s heat zone places them between 7 and 5 – meaning, they can do well in the hotter climates where the average number of days per year that have temperatures above 86F are between 60 and 90 days. (More info on heat zones here.)
The Dwarf Japanese Hollies like damp soil in part shade – the Sky Pencil can be grown in full sun providing the soil remains damp (like wrung-sponge damp.) They enjoy containers or can be planted right in the ground. You can prune them to slow down the growth for the miniature garden – they are slow-growing babies and if left alone, will “grow up” – but we can still enjoy them for years and years in the miniature garden.