Yule Tune: The Holly & The Ivy (King’s College Choir, Cambridge)

Holly and Ivy

We’re at the halfway point in our Yule Tune odyssey and I thought I would take a look at a very moving carol, “The Holly And The Ivy.”  It’s so moving that I placed it into the category: “Carols That I Love Even Though I Don’t Know The Words.”

In my head, the song sounds something like this: “The holly and the ivy. Hmmm. Hmmm. Hmmm. Hmmm.”  My intention was to locate the lyrics and print them with pictures of, well, holly and ivy.  A simple, no-nonsense post —  until I began the research and uncovered a complicated history of the carol.

To make a long story short, the lyrics are full of controversy and symbolism.  Well before Christianity entered the world stage, early peoples honored the winter months by decorating their homes with evergreens, including holly and ivy.  In fact, ivy was often associated with the Roman god Bacchus, and holly was part of Saturnalia celebrations.  Early Christian leaders tried to change pagan traditions, but they were eventually incorporated into the new religion.

As the lyrics evolved, they became symbolic of Christ’s life.  They also reflected earlier carols that described the battle of the sexes, with the masculine holly challenging the feminine ivy for supremacy.  With very little mention of ivy in the carol, it would seem that holly has won the battle — or is this just another example of the feminine being suppressed by the masculine, which is the basis for a little novel called The DaVinci Code.

Like I said, all I really wanted was a simple post.  Instead, I have a complicated one, as well as a complicated carol.  It’s probably why, now that I think of it, I have a complicated relationship with both of these plants.  I love them.  I hate them.  I love them.

Let me first say that I have ivy growing everywhere: spreading along the ground, rambling on and over fencing, climbing up trees.  I love its lush appearance and its ability to make a wall of green.  But that’s where the love-fest ends.  Ivy does not have low maintenance in its vocabulary.  It plays a huge role in my gardening life as I hack, prune, and yank it to keep it within bounds as it spreads, rambles, and climbs.  And let’s not even talk about the time I had to clean out an ivy-filled area to create a perennial garden.  Bah, humbug — indeed!

Then, there is the holly.  I have a variegated type, and Joe and I have moved it around the yard at least twice.  I hate to part with it, because I do like the leaves — especially at this time of year, when we cut sprigs and bring them into the house.  The thing about holly, though, is that it lulls you into a false sense of security.  Just when you  think it’s lovely, it’s time to do some spring cleaning, and inevitably, I get stuck by the spiny edges of the leaves.  Over and over and over again.  The rest of that gardening day has me muttering something like, “The f%(#*&(n holly and the f&^%%$&n ivy. Hmmm.  Hmmm. Hmmm.  Hmmm.”

At this point, it’s probably best that I let those who know the words — and who can sing it far better than I — show you why it is one of the most beautiful carols ever written.

Bloomin’ Update 35: Uncle!

Dahlia leaves didn’t appreciate the post-Sandy freeze.

This was supposed to be a post about how I kept myself occupied after Sandy while waiting for my work to resume.  Schools have been closed since the storm.

Fortunately, Joe and I had power throughout the Sandy ordeal, but the gas shortage had me staying close to home — which gave me the perfect chance to clean the yard.

Continue reading

Bloomin’ Update 14: The Holly & The Ivy

Like most people at this time of year, I have Christmas carols on the brain.  They’re everywhere: malls, supermarkets, non-stop radio stations — it’s hard not to hum a few bars.  That’s what I’m doing a lot of, especially with “The Holly and the Ivy.”   It’s a moving carol, especially when sung by a choir or by folks dressed up like eskimos. 

In my head, though, the song sounds something like this: “The holly and the ivy. Hmmm. Hmmm. Hmmm. Hmmm.”  I don’t really know the words — and this, my fellow holiday revelers, is the reason for this post.  My intention was to locate the lyrics and print them with pictures of, well, holly and ivy.  A simple, no-nonsense post —  until I began the research and uncovered a complicated history of the carol.

Continue reading

Bloomin’ Update 10: Autumn Joy

My plan was to have a post featuring the blooms of the waning days of summer.  With camera in hand, I captured bees tending to their chores on a day that felt more like July than September.  If you could see their bee faces, I’m sure they were aglow with autumn joy.

 Then, in a matter of hours, a cold front roared through.  The clouds thickened and darkened, the wind grew stronger, and fat drops of rain splattered everything.  And all the while, the temperature plummeted — so much so, that by sunset, it felt like late October.  When I looked out of a window, I saw the last canna bloom (was that a shiver?) glowing.  I again grabbed the camera, this time to capture the canna’s last stand — and I was blown away by the vividness of color.

I wondered what other flowers and plants would look like surrounded by chilled darkness and then the glare of a flash.  I was limited in my selection because of the time of year, but I did (surprisingly) capture a noisy cricket in the ivy that climbs up the maple tree.  He’s resting on the large leaf at the bottom of the photo.
Now the Zinnias, a little battered and chewed up, but still holding on to their color.
This Blanket Flower is probably wishing that it had a blanket.

A few of the old standbys:  a faded Hydrangea (take that Madonna!), Liriope spikes, Coleus “Tartan,” and a Caladium close-up.


The Sunflower Sisters, one streaked with orange, the second like a faded version of the first, and the third looking more like celestial eclipse.

Finally, another glimpse of “Autumn Joy” Sedum.  The bees were probably in a state of suspended animation at this hour and temperature.

My late-night expedition into the garden was a wonderful way to close-out summer.  (Note to self: Next year, don’t wait until the end of summer for a nighttime photo shoot.)  Looking back on this growing season, it was exciting to enter the blogging world and to share my life and garden with you.  I appreciate greatly all of the comments and encouragement.  Now, it’s time for cleaning up, digging and storing tender bulbs, protecting terracotta pots, and the never-ending raking — in other words, the joys of autumn.