True Gardeners

Fruit of the Mahonia bealei

Fruit of the Mahonia bealei

For many years I thought the plant that separated True Gardeners from posers was the Mahonia bealei. I provided six Landscape Design Consultations weekly for years, talking with many, many people and over the years the appreciation of that particular plant rang true for me and separated the True Gardeners in my mind.

True Gardeners are people who have the ability to separate the beauty of the plant from its less attractive attributes. Sometimes this is a seasonal thing sometimes it is purely the ability to appreciate nature.

Mahonia bealei is commonly known in the US as Leatherleaf Mahonia. It is one of those plants that is difficult to kill except in full sun. It doesn’t really die in full sun it just suffers and turns red. Probably sunburn. Otherwise, it is thorny, reproduces copiously via birds and generally stabs the passerby. Many people detest this plant and for good reason.

The reasons we appreciate this plant are many. Reliable under most circumstances, it remains cheerfully Evergreen through the iciest of weather. The holly like foliage can be used in holiday arrangements. I have spray painted the leaves metallic colors for wreaths (leather gloves required). The yellow flowers are borne in winter and are followed by grape like fruits that are enjoyed by numerous species of birds. Hence, another common name, the Oregon Grape Holly.

My mother had an enormous specimen she tree-formed to screen her garbage cans. We usually admired the flowers at Christmas, New Years or even Valentine’s Day depending on the weather. The only other flowers in the garden were pansies planted as annuals or Hellebores.

Oddly enough, almost everyone who enjoyed these referred to them as Mahonias. That was it. This may be ascribed to Americans not being particularly concerned with botanical nomenclature or just simply that was the most prolific Mahonia in the area. That said, plant taxonomy hasn’t worried me too much unless it defines a plant that I need to specify. Botanical nomenclature I love, plant tax not so much.

I think there is a plant like the Leatherleaf Mahonia the world over..not sure what it is in the UK or Australia; I was emailing with Karen (smallhouse/BIGGARDEN), a fellow Florida blogger about a weed we both like yesterday – Florida Snow. Karen identified this as Richardia grandiflora, which works for me. It is a horrible creeping weed if you are a turf purist, as gardeners we love the white flowers that look like snow in our backyard meadows..and we need no chemicals! My greyhounds run amuck in this and I have no worries.

Florida Snow

Florida Snow

And really if you have moved this far south, I think this is sufficient snow. My husband, the turf purist, is not really enjoying the flowers.


6 comments on “True Gardeners

  1. Really interesting info about the Mahonia…and thank you for the shout out re: our “Florida Snow!”


  2. mattb325 says:

    Despite their reputation, I do like the Mahonias and the blue grapes of M. bealei are so distinctive! Sadly here in Australia many plants with attractive berries become rampaging weeds and the Mahonias are no exception 🙂


  3. Chloris says:

    I love this Mahonia too, lovely foliage, gorgeous fragrant flowers, what’ s not to like? On the other hand I hate, hate, hate Mahonia aquifolium which seeds itself everywhere in my garden and is a beast to get rid of.
    Have you tried Mahonia eurybracteata ‘ Soft Caress’? It is very elegant and distinguished.


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