Great Plants this Month Winter

Mahonia eurybracteata subs. ganpinensis ‘Soft Caress’

Oregon grape ‘Soft Caress’

Louise Sims

The plant is a winner, literally, for it won the RHS Plant of the Year award in 2013 at Chelsea, and deservedly so. 

Initially I was so put off by the name I almost didn’t buy it – it sounds like something off the side of a soap powder packet – but putting my prejudices aside, I took the plunge and have no regrets. This mahonia is quite unlike any others because, as its name suggests, its foliage is not harsh and spiky but soft and palmlike; and the narrow leaflets arrange themselves in a most attractive pattern that instantly draws your attention. 

Slow but sure, in our garden this compact evergreen has attained just over a metre after four years, and is unlikely to get much higher, so it would also be a great specimen in a large container. It seems very adaptable and will flourish in sun, part shade or even deeper shade! The main thing is not to hem it in by other plants because it needs to show off its architectural shape.

The lightly scented yellow flowers begin to form in late summer, and in November they are a very cheering sight: they are followed by deep blue berries which the birds love.

NB Louise has published a beautifully produced book of her plant profiles – A Plant for Each Week of the Year. It costs £9.99 and is for sale in our online shop here.

More NB If you’re not already a subscriber and you’d like a bit more gardening chitchat from the3growbags, please type your email address here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday morning.

By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

7 replies on “Mahonia eurybracteata subs. ganpinensis ‘Soft Caress’”

I’d like to recommend the “The Gardener’s Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Trees & Shrubs” and the illustrated Encyclopaedia of Climbers and Wall Shrubs”. by the late, great Brian Davis. I am on my second copy of the first book because it fell to pieces with so much use. The format is the same in both – A good photo, then headings for Origin, Common name, Deciduous or Evgrn, Use, Descriptions (flower foliage, stem and fruit), Hardiness, Soil requirements, Sun/Shade aspect, Pruning, Training, Propagation, Problems, Similar forms of interest, and Average Height & Spread after 5,10,20 years. All invaluable clear information, especially when so many plant sellers prevaricate by labelling plants as if they can tolerate both sun and shade – a mistake he helps you avoid, whether you are new to gardening or experienced. These books are a model of clarity, and absolute winners by an author of great knowledge and experience.

Hello Julia, thanks so much for this tip. Brian Davis is a new name to me, but with such a glowing recommendation I’m definitely going to look out for books by him in future. I love a good reference book especially if you know that the author speaks from personal experience. Thanks fo taking the time to tell us and our other readers about him. Best wishes Laura

We inherited our mahonia so are not sure what name it has . The leaves are certainly spiky and sharp when old . There are numerous berries almost the whole year round . The birds here are obviously fussy as they don’t seem to eat them , not that I can blame them . My grandchildren and I tried to make a concoction using the berries . What an unbelievable experience and at the end of everything it tasted absolutely ghastly. Has any one been successful with making anything using the berries ? For me is its saving grace are the beautifully perfumed yellow flowers which are more than enough to brighten any dull day , and even better now during the second lockdown .

Hello Frances, I asked Louise if she had any experience of cooking with mahonia berries and she gave me this reply – I have never tried cooking the berries but there is a book by Richard Mabey called ‘Food for Free’ in which he says, ‘They can be eaten raw, though they are rather acid, and are best made into a jelly.’
So it looks like jelly is the way forward!
Best wishes Laura

Hello Anne, Laura here, and so glad to hear that our blog is bringing a bit of cheer. We all need a bit of that at the moment don’t we!

I’m with you on this one . I inherited a copy from my Mother and it’s certainly the first book I go to particularly for trees and have now planted a small arboretum all trees chosen through his wonderful and educational descriptions.

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