Make room for ma­ho­nia Th­ese prickly ev­er­greens have beefriendly flow­ers that are a pre­cious ad­di­tion to au­tumn borders

Th­ese prickly ev­er­greens have bee-friendly flow­ers that are a pre­cious ad­di­tion to au­tumn and win­ter borders, says Val Bourne

Garden Answers (UK) - - Contents -

Ma­ho­nias tend to be hand­some ever­green shrubs with yel­low f low­ers be­tween au­tumn and spring, so they make good ad­di­tions to the gar­den when lit­tle else is f low­er­ing. Closely re­lated to ber­beris, most have prickly fo­liage, al­though their stems are smooth. There are 70 species in all and, like many plants, they found them­selves on op­po­site sides of the world when Amer­ica and Asia sep­a­rated as a re­sult of con­ti­nen­tal drift. They are named for Bernard McMa­hon (1775-1816), an Ir­ish hor­ti­cul­tur­ist who set­tled in Philadel­phia in 1797, aged 21. The most widely grown Amer­i­can species is the spring-f low­er­ing Ore­gon grape (Ma­ho­nia aquifolium), a low-grow­ing, suck­er­ing ever­green whose clus­ters of yel­low f low­ers are fol­lowed by blue-black berries. In­tro­duced into Bri­tain in 1823, it’s very hardy and of­ten used in mu­nic­i­pal plant­ing schemes. The best gar­den form of M. aquifolium is ‘Apollo’. Dense, soft-yel­low flower clus­ters are framed by glossy green, holly-like fo­liage that red­dens once tem­per­a­tures fall. You’ll also no­tice a lily-of-the-val­ley scent from the f low­ers, held on red stalks that match the fo­liage.

Win­ter flow­ers

The most stat­uesque ma­ho­nias are Asian and th­ese tend to f lower in win­ter. M. oi­wak­en­sis lo­mari­ifo­lia is one of the finest, a species from Yun­nan in south­west China. Seeds were in­tro­duced to Bri­tain in 1931 and one of the first to grow it was Lawrence John­ston, owner of Hid­cote Manor in Glouces­ter­shire. His orig­i­nal plant still flour­ishes there, in a very shel­tered po­si­tion against a wall. It has an open habit and long toothed leaves, with clus­ters of rich yel­low flower spikes from mid-au­tumn to mid­win­ter. In the 1950s this crossed with highly scented M. japon­ica and pro­duced seedlings on the Slieve Donard Nurs­ery in North­ern Ire­land. Some of th­ese seedlings were pur­chased by Messrs L R Rus­sell’s Rich­mond Nurs­ery in Sur­rey and passed on to Sir Eric Sav­ill, cre­ator of the wood­land gar­den in Wind­sor Great Park. The best seedling was named M. me­dia ‘Char­ity’ by Sir Eric, due to Mr Rus­sell’s gen­eros­ity. Les­lie Slinger, who owned the Slieve Donard Nurs­ery, got lit­tle re­ward from this ter­rific plant. He re­alised his mis­take and fi­nally named ‘Win­ter Sun’ in 1984, which has brighter yel­low flow­ers. Purists pre­fer the more up­right, bril­liant yel­low flow­ers of ‘Lionel Fortes­cue’ – named af­ter the man who es­tab­lished The Gar­den House in Devon, a site for more hy­brid seedlings. ‘Buck­land’ is also from The Gar­den House, with pale yel­low flow­ers. Th­ese last three (hardy) cul­ti­vars have AGMs and pro­duce scented win­ter flow­ers Novem­ber to Fe­bru­ary. One ma­ho­nia that isn’t prickly – M. eu­ry­bracteata gan­pinen­sis ‘Soft Ca­ress’ – was voted Plant of the Year at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Ma­ho­nias can pro­duce flow­ers in shadier po­si­tions as long as it’s not too dry

2013. It’s com­pact, reach­ing H1.2m (4ft) or so, and needs a shel­tered po­si­tion away from cold winds. It has nar­row, al­most feath­ery fo­liage and flow­ers from Au­gust on­wards. Ma­ho­nias have one ad­van­tage over many win­ter-flow­er­ing shrubs: they can pro­duce flow­ers in shadier po­si­tions as long as it’s not too dry. Most are prickly, so po­si­tion away from paths and gate­ways. The taller ones have an ar­chi­tec­tural pres­ence with a bolt of hand­some green fo­liage. Many pro­duce their scented yel­low flow­ers in Novem­ber – surely the drea­ri­est month in the gar­den.

WIN­TER GOLD The up­right flow­ers of Ma­ho­nia me­dia ‘Lionel Fortes­cue’ pro­duce a haze of bril­liant yel­low in the depths of win­ter

Flow­er­ing even in shade, ma­ho­nias make ex­cel­lent part­ners for wine-red cor­nus stems

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