Most of the time this evergreen shrub adopts an unassuming role in the garden. A stiff upright- growing plant with prickly leaves that resembles a holly, it doesn’t command our attention like a camellia or a Japanese maple. That is, until January when magnificent sprays of bright yellow flowers bloom in spike-like clusters. The faded blooms are replaced by blue-black berries which the birds relish. This is one of those plants that must be planted in the right place, as the leaves are sharp and a little mean. It should not be planted close to walkways or where people sit or little children play. Mahonias do not seem to be bothered by either pests or diseases but they can get leggy. Use judicious pruning when needed to remove the leggiest canes to the ground.
I have many different mahonias in my yard but ‘Arthur Menzies’ (ordered from Heronswood Gardens, now out of business) may be a favorite. Friend and gardener Hayes Jackson told me this was a plant I should own. He was right; the beautiful glossy green leaves and the wonderful sprays of bright yellow blooms have earned a place in my garden’s heart. The sprays, resembling mini fireworks exploding in the landscape, are a special gift in January when the days tend to be gray and dreary. Although ‘Arthur Menzies’ will grow in full sun to part shade, mine is in filtered shade and doing well. This mahonia can reach 15 feet tall but not nearly that wide; in the ten or so years in my grden it has not reached that size. It is not a suitable choice for a foundation planting. It might make a nice screen as long as you plant it where no one can get stuck.
When I began to garden decades ago I went for all the splash and substance for spring and summer, an error commonly made by many gardeners, especially first timers. But gardening and the precious gifts that a garden can bring can occur twelve months of the year. A mahonia is only one of many wonderful plants that brightens the landscape at unexpected times throughout the year. So garden for the whole year. It takes a little practice and a lot of thought, but it is a worthwhile effort.
I will be presenting a free program on March 6 th at 2PM at the Public Library of Anniston-Calhoun County: "How does Your Garden Grow." Grady Woodall will present a free bonsai program at the Library on March 13 at noon and then there will be a hands on workshop on March 30 (call the Library to register as there is a fee for this workshop).
Hayes Jackson is doing a "Rain Barrel and Cisterns" workshop at the Anniston Museum from 10 until noon on March 29 th . Please check with the Museum at 256-237-6766 to register.
Looking ahead "Lunch and Learn" with the Calhoun County Master Gardeners starts back on April 25 at noon. Dr. Harry Holstein of JSU will be our speaker. The first MG plant sale of the season is April 21 from 8 until 11. Both events are at Cane Creek Community Gardens.
For those of you who can always use another tree there will be 2 tree giveaways in the county this month:
Jacksonville Arbor Day Tree give away: Friday, Feb. 17 th on the Square from 3 until 5 PM
Calhoun County Beautification Board: Friday, February 24 at Foodland in Alexandria from 2:30 until 4:30 PM.
The flowering quince (chaenomeles) around town have been putting on a show now for a couple of weeks. This wonderful deciduous ornamental is just about the first thing to begin blooming in the garden each year; I have seen the quince in the photograph start to bloom in January. This is an easy plant to grow; flowering quince doesn’t seem bothered by insects, diseases (except perhaps leaf spot in the summer), or deer. If it had one drawback, perhaps, that might be the thorns. Flowering quince want full sun and, like all plants, well-drained soil. It is neat to bring branches in the house and watch them bloom during late January. The flowers make a glorious flower arrangement. The quince pictured here ( I don’t remember the cultivar) grows only about three feet tall and about five feet around. There are many, many cultivars of flowering quince available to the trade: some grow tall; others remain dwarf size. There is a wonderful assortment of colors, including coral, pink, red, white and, my most favorite, the one that sports pink and white and red blooms all on the same branch (‘Toyo Nishki’). I have been told that quince can even survive in dry shade--the gardener's worst place to get something to grow, but I have not been successful in that environment.
Flowering quince is a wonderful addition to your garden. It might almost be described as bullet-proof, a gardener’s favorite plant description.
THE SOUTHERN LIVING GARDEN BOOK was the source for my information.
Many winter days can be very gray with bitter temperatures and blustery winds. We are worried more about our freezing pipes than gardening chores. This year so far our winter has been rather balmy. Winter does not have to be colorless or boring in the garden. The tropical leaves of the fatsia japonica or the reddish cast of a loropetalum’s leaves can brighten up our surroundings. The breath-taking blossoms of a camellia japonica, the cheery faces of the pansies, or the bright yellow trumpets of the early daffodils can add the burst of color that gardeners long to see twelve months of the year. Some of the most wonderful splashes of color in a winter landscape can come from berries. The weeping yaupon (Ilex vomitoria ‘Pendula’), nandina (Nandina domestica) and various cotoneaster cultivars sport wonderful bright red winter berries.
By mid-January the weeping yaupon is covered with bright red berries that sparkle in the sun like round jewels. As do most plants, the yaupon prefers well-drained, fertile soil. It will grow in part to full sun but will have more berries in the sun. This yaupon can reach 15 to 20 feet in height and about five to six feet in diameter. Deer don’t care to eat it. It is a trouble-free, easy-to-grow evergreen; the glorious fruit is just one more reason to add it to your landscape–provided you have the room to let it do its thing. This plant is one that must be planted in the right place because of its size at maturity.
Some gardeners have a love-hate relationship with the common nandina, a member of the bamboo family. I am not sure why as it can survive just about anywhere and be completely ignored. I have seen it growing, and even thriving, where it receives absolutely no attention. As do all plants, a nandina prefers well drained fertile soil with regular watering but it will grow in tree roots with dry shade. Nandinas can appear far from their original home as the birds drop the berries; since it spreads by underground stolons it can also creep out of its original planting space. For color, from both the leaves and the berries, it does deserve to have a place in the garden. It is tough as nails, doesn’t seem to be troubled by pests or diseases, and is not too picky about its growing conditions or its environment (grows in sun or shade). Improper pruning techniques, however, can quickly ruin a nandina’s appearance. Shearing it into a hedge, a square, or a round ball are all misdemeanors in the gardener’s book of pruning. If a nandina needs a little pruning,, that is best done with a hand pruner. One can also cut one third of the canes to the ground each year for three years. There are so many cultivars: ‘Firepower’ grows two feet tall; others such as ‘Plum Passion’ reach four to five feet. The common nandina can reach six to eight feet.
Another beauty in the winter garden is the cotoneaster as the berries appear sooner than those of the nandina and yaupon. When its weeping branches are covered with hundreds of red berries, it is a standout in the winter garden. Cotoneasters require little care and should not be heavily pruned as that will ruin its natural shape. It would make a beautiful espalier across a fence. Most cotoneasters prefer full sun, but will grow in light shade also. They will survive on little water. Although they do well in drought conditions they are prone to a type of blight which will mutilate and kill them.
When you are choosing plants for your landscape, remember those whose beauty is in the berries During the cold days, your winter jewels will warm your heart.