Here is southwestern Connecticut (zone 6), Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon Grapeholly) is definitely a relative unknown. A native to the Pacific northwest and much of Canada, it is worthy of a place in shady gardens throughout zones 4 – 8, especially if you have deer browsing in your garden.
Oregon grapeholly has large, glossy evergreen leaves that resemble those of a holly. It tolerates partial sun to full shade and a variety of soil conditions. However, it does not like alkaline soil. Mahonia aquifolium is considered deer resistant which gives gardeners like me who garden around deer another weapon in our ‘shrubs for shady spots’ arsenal.
Because Mahonia aquifolium is evergreen and tolerates a fair amount of shade, it makes both an interesting foundation plant or a screen for areas where other shrubs just can’t survive.
There are several cultivars available for gardeners who are looking for a Mahonia that is slightly different from the species:
- Mahonia aquifolium ‘Apollo’: A low-growing form of Mahonia which makes an interesting evergreen groundcover. Flowers have a more orangey-yellow color.
- Mahonia aquifolium ‘Compactum’: A dwarf form, growing about 2′ tall, with bronze fall color.
- Mahonia aquifolium ’Smaragd’: Grows to about 4′ tall and has lovely leaves that start out an emerald green and turn purpley-bronze as the weather gets colder.
It may take a bit of searching to find Mahonia in your local nursery, but your efforts will be well rewarded for years to come.