Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

All I’ve got to say is WOW.

A couple of days ago I decided to go for a walk at Government House to see what was in bloom. While the usual winter grimness was prevalent there was still a lot of  things to see. Spent hygrangea blooms clung to naked branches, a larch in the corner loomed bear. Cyclamen leaves were tucked this way and that and the trees above were loaded with the most vibrant scarlet berries. A cotoneaster perhaps? I strolled on.

Just before leaving I turned around to look at the entrance of Government House when I noticed an explosion of yellow and lush green foliage. Mahonia x media, in full bloom, resembling slow motion fireworks. What a sight!

This intentional/accident hybrid,  is a cross mix between M. lomariifolia and M. japonica. While M. lomariifolia is relatively tender, japonica is hardy well below -15 and passed it toughness onto it’s offspring. Here in Victoria it’s fool proof hardy and in time grows to staggering sizes. As seen in the photo above, Mahonia x media can grow upwards to 15ft once established.

Mahonia x media starts flowering late November and keeps going well into January. After the blooms are spent the bush is covered in interesting blue/grey berries then in spring sends out a red flush of new foliage. The foliage of course being equally as attractive as the blooms, is holly like but larger. As a potted specimen growth will be a tad slower, but the plant thrives non the less. Depending on how it’s looking mine gets moved throughout the garden and seems to enjoy sun to part shade. Overall not a fussy plant being quite drought tolerent and almost fully pest resistant. Minus it’s soft spring flush of leaves, Mahonia is prickly enough to discourage deer as well.


Fresh foliage underway May 2011

While I tend to avoid a lot of shrubs due to size restrictions, Mahonia x media proves to cooperate even if you have limited space. Pot bound you shouldn’t be overwhelmed by it’s spring growth. All hesitation aside, if you get the chance to grow this plant don’t think twice. Hands down the most beautiful plant outside right now and it does most of the work for you. Best bought on impulse in October/November just starting to bud, a late buy for it’s foliage alone will suffice.

True hybrid propagation done through cuttings, mahonia can also grow from seed but with some variation.

It was worth a trip to Government House after-all, and if you haven’t been there before, take a stroll today. It’s free, and quickly becoming my most favorite public garden in Victoria. Incredible.


The perfect time to buy a Mahonia, mid October/November in bud


Spent hydrangea blooms

8 Responses to Try Mahonia x media for a tropical winter.

  • Diane Whitehead says:

    Mahonia x media is not just beautiful. It is also a good nectar source for Anna’s hummingbirds which live here all year.

  • I love mahonia in general – both due to flowers and foliage – but that’s a gorgeous specimen!

    I have a small one that was rescued from an abandoned garden and is now sitting in a pot on our terrace, but maybe it will be allowed out into the borders eventually, since it’s so good at adding a little interest in winter.

  • Holley says:

    What a gorgeous plant! I’ve been looking for mahonias in my local garden center, but haven’t been able to. I’ll have to go a little farther and locate some. You’ve just sold me on them!

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Mr Nat. Gardener, Plant Nerd
Tips and tales about gardening in one of the most mild climates in Canada. Specializing in rare and strange plants from far out destinations, this is the story of an obsessed young gardener in Victoria B.C. Let's create more tropical gardens in the garden city on the southern tip of Vancouver Island.
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