“Winter Sun” in the Garden

It’s late November as I write this. Opportunities for photographing gardens are almost nil (although I did happen on a fabulous fall garden a couple of weeks ago when a new client contacted me). With the soaking rains here last week, all the leaves are down (except for those blasted oak leaves, which will last until January) so finding something to shoot is a challenge.

Enter an invitation from one of my ongoing garden owner clients to come see his mahonia. Ho hum, I thought. How interesting can that be? Answer: plenty, when the mahonia in question is Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun.’

Mahonia x media 'Winter Sun'

'Winter Sun' mahonia lighting up the landscape in late November in a client's garden.

The client had mentioned that he had “a few” of these mahonia around the upper part of his garden, whose hardscape areas were designed several years ago by Corinna Posner (her own garden backs up to this one). But I was totally unprepared for the impact the bright yellow blooms of  ‘Winter Sun’ had on the surrounding areas.
Mahonia x media 'Winter Sun'

Mahonia x media 'Winter Sun', winter garden

The blooms of two plants of 'Winter Sun' lead your eye up into the far parts of the garden - and don't you just love the contrast with the pumpkins?

Mahonia x media 'Winter Sun', fall

The blooms of Mahonia 'Winter Sun' provide a great foil for the fading rust and red colors of adjoining deciduous shrubs as well as its own dark green foliage

Up close, the blooms are even more striking, and faintly fragrant as well.

Mahonia x media 'Winter Sun'

The spiky blooms on 'Winter Sun' turn from chartreuse-green to a bright yellow.

After seeing this beauty in my client’s garden, I looked it up online. ‘Winter Sun’ mahonia is hardy only from zones 7 to 9, prefers a partially shady site sheltered from wind, and will grow to about 10 feet tall unless pruned to a lower height. It’s more fragrant than most mahonias – and should be deer-resistant although if I’m lucky enough to find one for my own garden I will be putting it to the test. For more details on this stunner, visit Great Plant Picks’ website here. And be prepared for a serious case of plant lust.

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9 Comments on ““Winter Sun” in the Garden”


  1. Beautiful. I love it. I’ve always been on the fence about mahonias but this one is truly a stunner!


  2. The almost identical variety ‘Charity’ This has long been a favorite of mine and has been popular in my native England for many decades. Now living in Seattle I seem to include them in every landscape design as well as many shade containers both for my clients and myself. It looks especially at home in a woodland garden, perhaps under-planted with Leucothoe ‘Rainbow’ to echo the yellow.

    Hummingbirds fight over the fragrant flowers, black berries bring later interest (the common name is Oregon grape) and yes I have found it to be left alone by deer. I have found ‘Charity’ easily hardy to zone 6. A five star plant!

  3. Liz Reed Says:

    wow!,stunning! and so beautifully sited in this garden. I’ve discouraged clients from Mahonia, putting them in the ‘girl with the curl’ category: When they’re good they’re very, very good, but when they’re bad……..
    These are gorgeous. I’ll revisit the idea!. I think birds love them too, right? and butterflies in summer? They seem to volunteer readily in unexpected places.

    I’ve been following and enjoying all your wonderful travels and posts

    Much to catch up on with you, Melissa!

    Liz Reed

  4. Laurrie Says:

    At first I thought “garish blooms”, but then seeing them so brightly coloring that beautiful hardscape from a distance, I am loving them. I like Liz’s comment above about “girl with a curl” plants… my mahonia aquifolium experiments were the “very very bad” ones. They were terrible plants for me. How I wish they had looked like these Winter Sun mahonias!

  5. Barbara Katz Says:

    Melissa, I just did a consultation in Great Falls, and as we wandered the property, we rounded a corner, and I was greeted with a massive stand of this Mahonia in full flower – the sight took my breath away ! It was about 6′ tall, completely covered in huge yellow spikes with bees everywhere, and the fragrance was awesome. I thought it was ‘Charity’ but don’t know how available that cultivar is here. For sure, I am utterly inspired to include them in every landscape from now on. Look forward to catching up with you soon !

  6. Melissa Says:

    Ladies, how nice to have such a great response from such accomplished designers (and friends too)! I, too, love Liz’s “girl with a curl” analogy. And I hadn’t heard of ‘Charity’ before but am now going to ask our plant buyer to do some looking both for it and ‘Winter Sun.’ I expect this garden owner bought these locally through a retail nursery so perhaps there is hope. Thanks again for stopping by!

  7. Alan Detrick Says:

    I may have to find a sheltered spot in our gardens (zone 6 ) to see if it will survive. What a great addition to a bleak scene.

    Alan Detrick

  8. John Says:

    Hi Melissa, I came across your posting when I was doing a search for Winter Sun Mahonias (nice article on them in RHS “The Garden” this month). Have you seen any good examples in DC. I’m thinking of putting this on my Christmas list.

    • Melissa Says:

      They are currently in bloom in my client’s garden, where I took the photos. They look great (I went by to drop off a gift – he wasn’t home but his partner was there and we looked at the garden).

      I don’t know of any in public gardens, but I can assure you this is a winner.


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