At a garden show a year ago I finally put my hands on a plant that I had only read about: ‘Soft Caress’ Mahonia (Mahonia eurybracteata), a new introduction marketed through Novalis’ Plants That Work. The leaves of this plant were nothing like the spiny holly-like leaves on the mahonia that grows in my garden. This plant really was soft. The leaves were long and graceful, looking a bit like bamboo. I knew then that I would eventually own one.
There are around 70 species of mahonia plants around the world, with North America’s native Oregon Grape Holly (Mahonia aquifolium) being one that we know well. Named after Bernard McMahon (1775-1816), a horticulturist and one of two men selected by Thomas Jefferson to receive and grow these Pacific Northwest seeds from the Lewis and Clark expedition.
Last week I finally stumbled upon a young ‘Soft Caress’ in glorious bloom at a nearby nursery and I snatched it up. It’s tucked into a more shaded spot in the garden, close enough to the house that the lemony yellow racemes of blooms will be visible from a window. Later in the winter, bluish berries should replace the blooms. I expect ‘Soft Caress’ to be a relatively fast growing evergreen, reaching about 4-feet in height and I’m certain it will continue to give interest and structure to this zone 7 garden throughout the winter months.
Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester