Mahonia japonica

Mahomas are an acquired taste. I cannot now believe that I once thought Mahonia japonica too severe a plant for a romantic garden, for I now admire it above all other winter-flowering shrubs. It has both sculptural form and graceful flowers as well as the practical virtue of adapting to difficult conditions.

This mahonia is a large evergreen shrub, growing slowly to a height and width of 8 feet (2.4 m) or more. The main stems divide into many branches, each ending in a huge rosette of shiny pinnate leaves which are spine-toothed and must be carefully handled. In mid-winter drooping sprays oi lemon-yellow flowers grow from the middle of each rosette, strongly scented with the boudoir smell of lilies-ofthe-valley. The shrub is very hardy and never fails to flower.

It will grow in any well-drained soil and prefers shade to sun. which may scorch the leaves. Should these be damaged by frost, leaf-spot, or other accident, a whole branch can be cut off above a young shoot on the mam stem in spring the shoot will grow at once and form its own rosette.

Flowers can be cut for the house, but if they are to last, whole stems with their leaves should be cut, not just little sprays of blossom, which will wilt. A shrub of this architectural nature should be grown as a specimen, either in the shade of buildings or under trees, provided these are not too dense and smothering.

There are some good mahonia hyb-rids, of which the best-known is ‘Chanty’, but none has the rich scent of this species.

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