Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Mahonias in the Mist

We have a Mahonia in our back garden but it is situated in a patch of poor, stony soil and does not thrive. I was pleased therefore to chance across, and photograph, some fine specimens in Banbury yesterday morning (11th December). I suspect they were examples of that fine hybrid Mahonia x media 'Charity' and they brightened up the car park on a foggy morning. It is quite a fragrant plant too but the air would have needed to be a little warmer for this to be evident.

Mahonias, named after the gardener Bernard McMahon, are in the Barberry family and consist of about 70 shrubs and small trees. The first species I ever encountered was Mahonia aquifolium, known as Oregon Grape. It is an untidy, sprawling thing, and why it was awarded the Award of Gardening Merit back in 1930 is a mystery to me. Perhaps its chief merit is that it is a tough plant, coping with dry and shady conditions. It is widely naturalised in Northamptonshire and over much of Britain, having often been planted in en masse as ground cover for game. I often see it receive visits from bees and it is apparently also self-pollinated. It certainly produces lots of berries and these can be used for jam making, a fact unaccountably overlooked by Jamie Oliver and Delia Smith.

Mahonias are found down the western seaboard of North America and are the state flower of Oregon but are also found in south and east Asia. It is tempting to think that this odd distribution may be linked to continental drift.

Be that as it may, I must feed our struggling specimen this coming spring or I may find myself charged with neglect.

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