I had a love-hate relationships with Mahonias, a horticulturalists plant that I was supposed to admire but instead I always vaguely disliked the gawky awkward specimens in plant lovers gardens. My feelings changed after reading Gertrude Jekyll. She planted them in great numbers in front of country houses, liking their winter blooms and spiny evergreen leaves that hindered intruders.
Inspired by her planting schemes I bought a dozen Mahonia bealii from Fairweather Gardens and grouped them in our front border. They are now one of my favorite evergreen shrubs for winter interest. The erect flower clusters become visible as early as November, in my sheltered border the lemon-yellow flowers start blooming before Christmas and continue for months with a wonderful old-rose fragrance that is a magical scent in December.
The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society has honored Mahonia bealii with its Gold Medal Plant Award. The flowers are followed by powdery-blue fruits which are snatched almost immediately by birds. It grows slowly to 6-10 feet, mine are pruned each year after flowering and have formed a fabulous 4' high mass. They do best in a shady site with some protection from winter sun and winds.