Charity MahoniaMahonia x media ‘Charity'
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Mahonia x media ‘Charity'
Outdoor Growing zone
Partial Sun, Shade
The Charity Mahonia is one of the most acclaimed shrubs for shade gardening, with a bold architectural form, growing 12 to 15 feet tall in time, It develops as a clump of many thick, upright stems, topped with big heads of glossy green leaves in a whorl, made up of many spiny leaflets. In November and December the stems are topped with 18-inch long sun-burst clusters of golden-yellow flowers that may be followed by hanging clusters of blue berries that develop over the following summer. Use this plant in all the shady parts of your garden, on the north side of your home, or out in woodland areas with other shade-loving shrubs.
Partial sun is best for the Charity Mahonia, with some afternoon shade, or day-long dappled shade. It grows well in most soils, preferring richer, moist ones, but not flooded soil. Established plants are remarkably drought resistant, and the flower buds even take some frost. It has no pests or diseases and it’s avoided by deer. You can cut out some of the tallest stems after blooming to keep it more compact, if you wish. No other care is needed.
Winter flowering fragrant; evergreen and shade tolerant; uniquely beautiful foliage – what more could any gardener ask for? The Charity Mahonia gives us all that, and this faultless shrub is guaranteed to become an outstanding specimen in your garden. Mahonia shrubs are fascinating plants, relatives of barberry, but with none of that widely-grown shrub’s faults. The Oregon grape is perhaps the most well-known, but Asia has many, and the variety called Charity is a hybrid between two Asian species, although created in Ireland and England. If you have shady areas in your garden just crying out for foliage and color, then look no further than this beautiful shrub. The broad, spreading leaves are divided into many leaflets, making bold clumps on top of sturdy, upright stems. It flowers at that most precious time of year – early winter – blooming typically in November and December, with long, radiating stems of golden yellow flowers growing from the branch ends like a sun-burst. A wonderful and durable shrub to brighten the winter garden, it’s relatively slow growth rate is its only fault, but in this case your patience will be richly rewarded.
The Charity Mahonia is an evergreen shrub that grows as a clump of more-or-less upright stems, growing steadily to become 12 to 15 feet tall and 12 feet wide in about 20 years, if unpruned. The upper feet of each stem are covered in a round whorl of leaves that will be 18 inches long on mature stems – shorter on young ones. Each leaf is divided into smaller leaflets, arranged along a central stem, with up to 10 pairs, ending with a single leaflet at the tip. The leaflets are 2 to 4 inches long, dark-green and glossy, with spines along the edges reminiscent of holly leaves. The spines are probably the only fault anyone could find with this beautiful shrub. In some locations and seasons the leaves may turn bright red in fall.
In fall you will see the beginning of flower buds at the tip of the stems, and by November these will be open. The flowers are resistant to frost except when they are fully open, which happens gradually, so unless you have very persistent frost you are assured of a good flower display, continuing into December. The flowers are abundant, carried on a cluster of radiating stems up to 18 inches long on mature stems. These grow outward at an upward angle, making an attractive cluster. The individual flowers are pea-sized, bright yellow and fragrant – a beautiful display at such a bleak and dark time of year. If you have several plants, especially of other mahonia, and bees around, clusters of blue berries develop after the flowers, looking a little like blueberries, with the same dusty bloom on them. These develop slowly, ripening in summer and early fall of the year after flowering, hanging in clusters beneath the leaves that sprouted in spring.
This spectacular shrub is perfect for shady parts of the garden, giving height and structure to those difficult areas beneath large trees. It’s a great companion to camellias, azaleas, rhododendrons and hydrangeas, and plants like hosta and astilbe can be grown beneath it. Use it on the shady side of your house in the foundation planting, or out in the garden in beds, especially in woodland areas. The architectural form of this plant is loved by garden designers.
The Charity Mahonia is hardy from zone 7 to 9, growing especially well in the northwest and southeast, and able to tolerate some frost without damage to the leaves or flowers.
Light dappled shade is the best location for your Charity Mahonia, and it is where the leaves will grow the largest. In cooler zones don’t be afraid to plant with morning sun – it will grow well, but avoid hot, dry areas that are exposed to afternoon sun. Partial shade is perfect, including areas on the north side of buildings. It grows best in richer woodland soils, but it isn’t at all fussy, and seems to thrive everywhere that isn’t boggy and flooded. Once well established it is also remarkably drought resistant, but does benefit from a deep soak during hot, dry weather.
The Charity Mahonia is rarely troubled by pests or diseases, or eaten by deer. It needs virtually no attention – you can cut off the spent flowers for neatness once you see that no berries are developing, if you wish. You can also remove the older leaves once they have turned brown and hang down, but it isn’t essential. To maintain a smaller, more compact plant, remove a few of the tallest stems from time to time. Cut them after flowering, before new leaves sprout, to direct the energy into new stems from the base.
The first mahonia recorded by Europeans was the Oregon Grape, Mahonia aquifolium, collected by Lewis and Clarke in 1803. Numerous others grow in Asia, about 70 different species in all. Mahonia lomariifolia is a species from China, Taiwan and Tibet, now correctly called Mahonia oiwakensis. In 1950 a batch of seedlings of this plant were grown at the Slieve Donard Nursery Company, in County Down, Ireland. Some of these ended up at the English nursery of Messrs L. R. Russell of Windlesham, Surrey. From those plants the gardener Sir Eric Savill selected three plants to grow at his garden in Windsor, outside London. Botanists agree that the pollen-parent of these seedlings must have been another species called Mahonia japonica, because the first plants in the West came from nurseries in Japan, but actually this species is native to Taiwan. In time this hybrid was officially called Mahonia x media, and several other varieties have been created from this cross. The Savill Gardens plant was named Charity and quickly became popular in England, spreading around the world from there.
The Charity Mahonia is one of the very best garden shrubs for areas where it can be grown, and no garden should be without it. It remains one of the very best of these plants, despite the promotion of other varieties, so order right away, because you can’t do better than this, and our stock will soon be gone.