GINA PARKINSON sings the praises of a shrub that provides much interest at this time.

MAHONIA has been scenting our garden for months, beginning around Christmas and still continuing.

The first of this family of shrubs to appear was Mahonia japonica ‘Bealei’, with masses of lemon yellow flowers and shiny evergreen holly-like foliage back at the beginning of January.

The blooms are only just going over now, but the leaves will remain as an interesting backdrop for summer plants. The brownish grey stems of this shrub eventually grow to 2.5m/8ft or so with a similar spread, so a mature specimen will need a fair amount of space.

However, the stems stay reasonably slender and can be kept bare of growth with the main display of flowers and leaves kept towards the top of the shrub, giving it an airy feeling.

There is a good example of this on the White Rose Walk in the Museum Gardens in York, where the gardeners have created an attractive specimen with textured multi stems through which can be seen the park railings and river. While the flowers of Mahonia japonica have all but faded, those of another member of the genus, Mahonia aquifolium, or Oregon Grape, have taken their place and look set to remain fresh for a few more weeks yet.

This is a much lower-growing plant than its relative with the usual glossy leaves richer coloured flowers held in rounded clusters rather than spikes. Only reaching 1m/3ft or so tall, it is an ideal ground-cover plant, especially under trees or in a shady north- facing spot that is difficult to fill. The mahonia family is fairly tough, coping with most reasonable garden soils and thriving in shade or semi-shade, although Mahonia japonica needs shelter from cold winds.

Little pruning is needed apart from cutting back unwanted stems in April after flowering. Old, straggly specimens of Mahonia aquifoliumcan may be rejuvented by cutting hard back in spring after which the plant can be left for a number of years before it needs to be done again.

In the vegetable patch

SHALLOTS can be planted out now. Dig over the area to loosen the earth and remove the weeds so that it is only small weed seedlings that need to be hoed once the shallots begin to grow.

Then plant the sets so their tips are just below the surface of the soil, spacing them 15cm/6ins apart in rows 30cm/12ins apart.

To keep the rows neat, mark them with a long cane or twine fastened across the width of the bed, remove the markers and label the rows after planting.

Apart from looking good, having produce coming up in rows makes the new shoots easy to identify when weeding or planning further planting.

Weekend catch-up

IT IS time to give roses their spring feed, which is usually done at this time of year before the leaves are fully open. A handful of rose fertiliser can applied around each plant when the soil is moist. It should then be hoed in lightly and left to slowly break down and reach the roots of the rose.

Open gardens


In aid of the National Gardens Scheme

Ellerker House, Everingham, YO42 4JA, 15 miles south east of York. A five-acre garden on sandy soil with spring bulbs, mature trees, formal lawns, woodland walk around a lake, rose arch and seating area with views of the garden. Open 12pm-5pm, admission £3.50. Also open


In aid of the National Gardens Scheme

Hotham Hall, Hotham, YO43 4UA, 15 miles west of Hull near North Cave. Mature parkland setting with established gardens including a Victorian pond, mixed borders spring bulbs and a bridge over the lake to an arboretum and woodland walk. Open 11am-2.30pm, admission £5 adult, £2.50 child, under threes free, tickets include refreshments.

Saturday, April 7.

Friars Hill, Sinnington, YO62 6SL, four miles west of Pickering on the A170. One and a half acre garden with more than 2,500 varieties of perennials and bulbs planted for year-round colour and including early interest hellebores, bulbs and woodland plants. Open 1pm-5pm, admission £3.

Goldsborough Hall, Goldsborough, HG5 8NR, two miles south east of Knaresborough. Restored garden originally opened for the NGS in 1928 and reopened in 2010. The 11-acre garden and formal landscaped area includes Gertrude Jekyll inspired replanted 120ft double herbaceous borders, a lime tree walk underplanted with 50,000 naturalised daffodils, woodland walk and specimen trees. St Mary’s Church will also be open. Open 12pm-4pm, admission £5.

In aid of British Red Cross

Lower Heugh Cottage Garden, Eastby, BD23 6SH, 2.5 miles from Skipton. This large one-acre Kaiyushiki Japanese garden includes Zen and Karesansui areas, a rockery with cascade, fish ponds, courtyard beds, moongate and a new Emperor garden created in 2011 by Professor Fukuhara. The garden is open by appointment only, the owners can be contacted on 0114 242 7381 for opening times and admission.

Gardening TV and radio


8am, BBC Radio Humberside, The Great Outdoors. With Blair Jacobs and Doug Stewart.

9am, BBC Radio Leeds, Tim Crowther and Joe Maiden.

2pm, BBC R4, Gardeners’ Question Time. Chairman Eric Robson and his team of horticultural experts answer questions from members of Crookham Gardeners’ Club in Northumberland. The gardening weather forecast is at 2.40pm and there is also a guide to weed and pest control.


8.30pm, BBC2, Gardeners’ World. Monty Don, right, recommends potatoes for summer crops and works on his new pond. Meanwhile Carol Klein looks at the daffodil family and Joe Swift concludes his series on design.