False Holly Is a True Winner

False Holly Is a True Winner


     One of the challenges of retail sales in a garden center is educating your customer’s understanding of sunlight, soil and moisture. Often the responses to these questions are ambiguous at best. “I get part sun, part of the day” is a response that is unclear to both parties. In most cases there has not been enough attention given to the location or placement of plants. Plant selections, at times, seem to be done by trial and error or in a capricious manner, rather than having a clear understanding of just how well a plant can do given the right environment.  So when a plant comes along tolerant to many conditions, it’s no wonder that the industry and public embrace it so quickly.

Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’ (Japanese False Holly or Holly Tea Olive) is a plant brought to us by way of a plant expedition. Barry Yinger and Phil Normandy, two notable plantsmen, in the early 1980’s were associated with Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland. These two men are responsible for collecting ‘Goshiki’ in Asia and selflessly asked the help of Iseli Nursery in Boring, Oregon to help propagate it. After evaluating ‘Goshiki’ for almost a decade, Iseli Nursery introduced this cultivar of false holly to the commercial trade and the explosion and popularity of this garden gem began.

“Goshiki in Japanese means ‘five colored’ and refers to the various colors found on each leaf.” This broadleaf evergreen has a collage of smeared markings of green, pink, copper, yellow and white throughout most of the year. Extremely durable, ‘Goshiki’ was held back before being released for fear of temperature hardiness. Osmanthus is typically a zone 7 plant; however, ‘Goshiki’ is a proven 6, possibly 5. The colors of this holly tea olive appear in swirls creating an eye-catching display. Useful as a specimen, in mass plantings or for container gardening, it can reach heights of 3 to 5 feet comfortably. Over time, however, heights of 8 to 10 feet are obtainable. Iseli Nursery, the Conifer Mecca of the world, has a single specimen over 12 feet. Impervious to garden pests and diseases, ‘Goshiki’ has even stood well against deer in New Jersey. Drought tolerant once established, ‘Goshiki’ will want some protection from desiccating winds in the winter. Consider spraying Wilt Pruf, an anti desiccant, in the fall as you would any other broadleaf evergreen.  And by the way, it will do well in either sun or shade.

Small white four-petaled blooms are hidden by the colorful foliage. From September thru November Osmanthus produces an intoxicating fragrance that has been aptly replicated by Henri Bendel. A modern, sophisticated shopping label in Manhattan, Henri Bendel has recently captured its fragrance and marketed it in the form of a candle. Notable for using botanical extracts Bendel has now given gardeners a chance to enjoy this unique plants fragrance year round.

Easily manipulated, ‘Goshiki’ creates an almost impenetrable colorful mound in any size garden. Its dense, compact growth habit reminds one of an armadillo’s body armor of bony plates. Often misidentified as Ilex (Holly), Osmanthus has leaves arranged in opposite pairs rather than alternate. It prefers well drained soil and is easily transplanted from containers. While ‘Goshiki’ seems to be the most readily available cultivar, be on the look out for Kembu, Sasaba, Akebono and Ogon. Most have leathery leaves with holly-like spines. And while some offer variegated margins their overall garden presence are different from their relative ‘Goshiki’.  With all that has been said you could even use Osmanthus cuttings in your next holiday arrangement. Imagine the rainbow of colors you’ll have in December on your holiday table.


Robert LaHoff

Hall’s Garden Center