From the Magazine – February, 2013

"Limbing up" this Nellie R. Stevens holly revealed it to be a lovely multi-trunked tree. The shrub responded this year with new growth and an abundant berry crop. Photos by Neil Sperry.

Neil and Nellie Go Back a Long Way

Steve Dodd Sr., veteran North Texas nurseryman and one of several brothers who had grown up in the nursery business in southern Alabama, gave me my first Nellie R. Stevens holly in fall, 1970. Even though the plant was first observed and collected early in the 1900s, it wasn’t until the ’60s that it became a stock item in the trade. That plant that Steve gave me was a 5-gallon tree-form Nellie R., but I really didn’t realize how special it was. Tree-form examples just aren’t all that common — weren’t then, and aren’t now. I planted it at the corner of our former house in Farmer’s Branch, and it’s still there today.

We moved to Collin County in 1977, and one of the first plants that I bought was another Nellie R. Stevens holly — except that it was a large shrubby specimen. After all, that’s what N.R.S. holly is: a very large (to 18 or 20 feet tall and 10 or 12 feet wide) evergreen shrub.

Over the years, this shrub had gotten larger and larger. I nestled pots of summer color beneath it from April until late October each year, but it was still the dominant plant of its surroundings. It had become a very big shrub. But, it was becoming just a bit lopsided, and I was beginning to wonder what I might do to repurpose it.

I still longed for the look of that tree-form plant Steve Dodd had given me, so I decided about 13 months ago that I’d give the big bush a trim. Using loppers and a pruning saw, we cut off the bottom-most branch. The plant looked better. So, courage buoyed, we cut off another. And another. And, what we found hiding in all that greenery was a lovely little multi-trunked tree.

It’s as if this particular Nellie R. Stevens holly took sudden pride in its good looks, because it put out a lot of new growth, and the branches loaded themselves with large, lovely fruit. The photo you see is from just a few weeks ago, and I’m really happy with the results. We’ve already trimmed a large Needlepoint holly in the same manner, and one of my largest Nellies will probably be “limbed up” by the time this issue prints and mails.

It’s just an idea I thought I’d throw out for your consideration. If you’re looking for a dramatic little accent tree for your own home grounds, maybe this shrub could be just your ticket.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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