I know it isn’t considered very fashionable but I rather like Mahonias particularly at this time of year when they come into their own.
Mahonias come from north and central America and East Asia, particularly the rocky and woodland areas. They were named after Bernard M’Mahon, an Irish political refugee, who opened a seed shop in Philidelphia and published the American Gardeners Calendar in 1806.
Mahonia xMedia ‘Charity’ was bought from Ashwood Nurseries probably five years ago. It is planted in part shade under the branches of my neighbours trees so it has taken a while to really establish and get its roots down through the tree roots. I like the dark green leathery foliage which I hope will provide a good back drop to the spring and summer plants in front of it.
However, now is its real season of interest with beautiful fragrant acid yellow flowers. The flowers are frost-resistant and an excellent food provider for pollinators which might still be roaming around in the winter. It is also nice to have something in flower at this time of year.
Mahonia x media ‘Charity’ is a large variety and can grow up to 400cm(13ft) tall. I have been hoping that mine would produce branches and therefore a wider plant but so far there is only one tall stem. I wouldn’t call it leggy yet but I am wondering whether I should prune it after flowering but I don’t know if I have the courage just to cut the top off! The RHS website says that whilst Mahonia can be stooled to about 45cm (18in) it is best to prune them over three years, removing a third each year. It also appears as though I should have pinched out the dead flowers when the plant was little as this would have encourage more shoots and a better shaped plant – well you live and learn.
Another interesting thing about Mahonias is that in the roots of species plants is a substance called berberin which has antibacterial effects and is used as a bitter tonic. Apparently there is also evidence that Mahonia may have anti-tumour properties. The flowers are followed by blue/black fruits which have the common name of Oregon grape. My research tells me that they are very nice to eat raw or cooked so I might try one this year.
I love the shape of the flower head it is like some sort of mad octopus – how can you not like it.