Mahonia aquifolium

This sturdy evergreen shrub is a native of woods in western North America where, because of the blue bloom on its fruits, it is known as Oregon grape. It will form a dense thicket by suckermg in almost any home you provide for it. Including the shade of deciduous trees. I have seen it making a rough hedge on the ramparts of the Loire chateau of Amboise, and I grow my own single bush under a walnut-tree. Which gives a fair picture of its versatility. It grows slowly, not usually to more than 4 feet (1.2 m), so if you plant it in the shade of your house it will not block the windows or invade the home.

The shrub consists of strong, upright stems decorated with glossy, pinnate leaves of a dark green which turns purplish in winter. At the top of each stem is a small leaf whorl with a tight cluster of flower buds inside. These form in winter to shoot up in spring into a spike of cheerful, yellow flowers. In autumn there are black berries covered with bloom. Mahonia aqutfolium is hardy and will grow in any reasonable soil, but give it some humus at planting time.

Round my slowly increasing thicket I have naturalized as many spring bulbs as will accept the conditions, and luckily many do so against the odds. Snowdrops and the British native daffodil. Narcissus pseudo-narcissus, flower reasonably well, and Heeleborus foetidus has seeded itself with its usual willingness to oblige.

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