The very first shrub I have planted in my new garden is a little Mahonia. I grew one in my garden in Deal, where it gallantly survived the shade of a row of leylandii, hardly ever saw any sun but still grew tall and handsome, brightening up a very dark corner every winter. Here it will cheer up an equally gloomy spot and once it gets going will provide sustenance for a variety of insects. Even though it is tiny, it is already providing a brilliant flash of yellow which I can see from the kitchen window when I am washing up.
I went up to Dad’s garden on Thursday where there is a magnificent untrimmed specimen of, I guess, about 12 feet. It grows under the huge copper beech while another smaller one lives on the shady half moon bed. Reading more about Mahonias it seems the genus was named by Thomas Nuttall in 1818 in honour of Bernard McMahon, 1775-1816 famous for his first seed catalogue of USA plants. The great Lewis and Clark Expedition which collected specimens of the mahonias was planned from his home but it seems a shame he was remembered after his death!
Since I started looking out for bees, mahonias have proved to be very rewarding Early insects and bees just love them! Looking through my photos from last year I see bumble bees, B lapidarius, B hortorum, honey bees and of course B terrestris queens which is why I am teaming them up for this painting.
B lapidarius and Mahonia, March 2011
Bombus terrestris and Mahonia, second rough.
I brought a flower spike (correctly called a raceme) back from Dad’s house to sketch. His big Mahonia could spare one. I have never really looked closely at a spray of the florets before. It is quite complex, opening out from tight greeny yellow buds through neat little cadmium yellow flowers to overblown brownish papery remnants, then leaving a fringe of little bright green seed heads some turning black and shriveled. Hmm it is complex!
Getting to know Mahonia …….