Friday, 8 November 2013


In amongst the deluges we have had the first  proper frost a couple of nights ago, it had rained and then frozen, covering exposed surfaces with ice. As I sit here I can see the blackbirds starting to take the berries of the big "Chinese Hybrid" cotoneaster and the Mahonia japonica coming into flower, another reminder of the approaching winter. Mahonias belong to one of the most useful of families the Berberidaceae which contains many plants which are both tough and beautiful ranging from the berberis genus stereotypes to the more exotic but tenacious epimediums. 

Mahonia japonica
This statuesque shrub flowers through the winter months, the delicately scented yellow flowers are unfortunately often eaten by blue-tits which I think go for the nectar. Will stand very hard pruning if it gets out of hand, but do it straight after flowering, although you may miss the black berries that form it will ensure flowers for the next year.

Mahonia japonica 'Hivernant'
Mahonia japonica 'Hivernant' is a more delicate looking cultivar which flowers later than the species, both will tolerate dry shade once established.

Mahonia aquifolium
Flowering in late spring Mahonia aquifolium, the Oregon Grape also has scented flowers and the typical yellow flowers of the mahonias but carried in clusters rather than the racemes of Mahonia japonica. A useful shrub for ground-cover, again in inhospitable areas, the leaves tend to go tatty which really means that they look better if cut down every year loosing the beautiful black berries which makes it a matter of personal preference.
Mahonias can be propagated in a variety of ways, by cold sown seed, layering, suckers or by half-ripe cuttings with heat. Do not ever hand-weed close to the big ones without gloves, the spines on the fallen dead leaves are excruciatingly sharp.


  1. Much later in the Winter before we see the flowers of Mahonia Japonica up here in Aberdeen Rick. Imagine Epimediums belonging to the same family.

  2. Funnily enough Alistair, the mahonia always comes into flower about now even in a more severe winter. If you look carefully at the flower on the picture of the Oregon Grape you can see that it has the same basic shape as the epimedium flower.

  3. I’d love to have a mahonia – if I could only find a space to squeeze it in. I have seen some dwarf varieties sold recently, I might consider one of them, even though you say you can prune them hard. Still, they grow quite big in a season, don’t they? I have a corner in my garden where absolutely nothing wants to grow, I think I have tried 8 plants there so far, everything has died, mainly trampled down by foxes and cats jumping over the fence, but it also has dry complete shade. Maybe I could manage to get a mahonia growing there. Although, that would eventually mean the foxes would jump somewhere else and destroy other plants so possibly not so wise…

  4. You are between a rock and a hard place there Helene, what do you do? Perhaps the low growing aquifolium may fit the bill if you don't particularly want the racemes of japonica.

  5. Hi Rick. Just popped over to thank you for your helpful comments on my own blog. First time I have visited you but I will be back- that might not altogether be good news!

  6. Thanks for popping in Roger. I await your return!