What shrub has evergreen foliage resembling both holly and fern, blooms in late fall/early winter with a candelabra of fragrant primrose yellow flowers, is drought tolerant once established and not a favorite of marauding deer? Answer: Mahonia x media ‘Charity’, a hybrid of the two species, M. japonica and M. lomariifolia.
Ever since I saw a form of Mahonia blooming in winter in the Plymouth MA garden of my friend Susanne, I have wanted to have this plant in my garden. Certainly, this is pushing the hardiness limits in our neck of the woods, so I have been scouting for a very protected spot (thinking of a clearing in our now dense grove of Yellow Groove Bamboo). ‘Charity’ is hardy to 0 degrees F, but we usually dip below that for at least a day or two each winter.
Of course all of you who live in balmier zones 7-9 should consider giving this winter interest plant a try. It is a broadleaf evergreen, and so it would be prudent to choose a site with protection from winter winds and strong western sun. Plants develop a vase shape and usually grow to 5-7’ tall but can reach 10’ in mild climates, with a width of 3-6’. The flowers begin forming in late October, providing unexpected color when you need it most from late November into January. The multiple upright racemes of small flowers are magnets for bees, who may venture out on mild days. Rich blue fruit follow in spring, thus the common name Grape Holly, and these are relished by birds. Older foliage may take on reddish tones in late winter, and tarnished leaves should be pruned once fresh growth begins to unfurl.
Mahonia can be grown in full sun or dappled shade, but if grown in full sun it it may require a bit more watering in dry spells. I should also add that the foliage has rather unfriendly sharp edges, and can deliver a “look but don’t touch” message to passerby.
Do you grow any forms of Mahonia and how have they performed where you live? Please share your experience.