Bursts of colour are appearing around Cambridge to signal the arrival of spring. March’s plant of the month is Mahonia aquifolium ‘Apollo’ (commonly known as Mountain grape). This cheery shrub embodies spring cheer with its masses of sunshine-yellow flowers which are in bloom now and will flower until the end of April.
Mountain grape is truly a plant for all seasons. Glossy leaves are dark green in spring and summer, turning a gorgeous purplish red in autumn and winter. The evergreen foliage resembles holly with its spiky, pinate leaves.
Dense clusters of sunshine-yellow flowers give a glorious display of colour until late spring. Dozens of tiny flowers grow along each raceme to create cones of vibrant colour. The upright clusters of flowers are packed with nectar to benefit bees and other pollinators, so its great for a wildlife garden.
Attractive purplish berries appear after flowering and provide food for visiting birds in summer. Berries grow in tightly packed bunches, hence the name ‘Mountain grape’.
Mountain grape grows in a spreading dome shape and forms ground cover once established. It will reach a metre high and half as wide again when fully grown - its compact size makes it a good choice for urban gardens. Whilst not really appropriate in a cottage style garden, it works well in both contemporary and more formal garden styles.
Tolerance of deep shade and drought make ‘Mountain grape’ a perfect choice for filling awkward spots in shade. Shady courtyards or north-facing walls and beds are perfect for this beautiful yet hardy shrub, although it will equally thrive in full sun.
Deadheading will prolong the flowering season and pruning can refine its shape, but both are optional – once planted it really is maintenance-free!
The Royal Horticultural Society has honoured Mahonia aquifolium ‘Apollo’ with an Award of Garden Merit. Why not add one to your garden this spring and enjoy it throughout the year?
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