Great in a shady spot, tolerant of neglect and flowering when few other plants dare to bloom, this mahonia is a garden stalwart. RHS botanist James Armitage traces its history
Mahonia × media ‘Charity’ growing at RHS Garden Wisley. There are several fine examples of this plant in the Garden which illuminate the dull days of winter with sprays of firework flowers that are sustained into spring.
A painting in the RHS archive of Meconopsis ‘Slieve Donard’, an AGM-winning cultivar of Himalayan blue poppy and one of a line of splendid introductions made by the Slieve Donard Nursery of County Down, Northern Ireland.
It was here that Mahonia japonica and M. oiwakensis subsp. lomariifolia first crossed to produce Mahonia × media. However, the hybrid was not to be detected until several years later when the young plants had been transferred to a nursery in Surrey.
Sir Eric Savill (1895-1980) in The Savill Garden, Windsor Great Park, in the 1960s. Originally a Royal Surveyor, Savill is now best remembered for the garden that bears his name.
It is he who is credited with the discovery of Mahonia × media and the garden remains well-stocked with mahonias to this day.
Visit The Savill Garden
Thomas Hope Findlay (1910-1994), Head Gardener at the Savill Garden, pictured in the 1950s at around the time he and Eric Savill spotted some unusual seedlings of Mahonia at Richmond Nurseries in Surrey.
These were to become some of the best known, most beautiful and reliable of flowering shrubs for British gardens.
A picture taken in the 1960s showing Chris Brickell examining rock plants with Ken Aslett, then the Superintendent of the Alpine Department at RHS Garden Wisley. Brickell trained as a horticulture student at Wisley before securing a job as Assistant Botanist, eventually rising to become Director General.
He is also well-known as the originator and Editor of the RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Plants. In 1979 he published the botanical name Mahonia × media in the first edition of the RHS periodical, The Plantsman.
The type specimen of Mahonia × media held in the Herbarium at RHS Garden Wisley (above). A type specimen serves as a reference point that shows the characters that should be possessed by plants bearing the name. In the case of Mahonia × media, the type is a sample of the cultivar ‘Charity’ collected from The Savill Garden, Windsor Great Park, in the run-up to Christmas 1966.
- Find more information and supplier details for mahonia species and hybrids with RHS Find a plant
- Buy Mahonia 'Charity' direct from RHS Plants