Mahonia japonica is one of the most handsome, winter flowering shrubs, with an imposing, upright habit that you cannot fail to notice.
It has strong, glossy, spiny leaves that cluster in flat rosettes around its stems, finally culminating in spikes of lemon yellow flowers which emit the lovely scent of lily of the valley. In colder weather the striking leaves have a rich, reddy flush, and when the flowers fade, deep blue berries take their place.
M. japonica makes a striking feature in any border, with its delicious, sweet scent drifting across the garden on a still winter's day and its strong, bold shape is a great backdrop to other winter flowers – bulbs, hellebores and any of the more delicate winter flowering shrubs such as lonicera and chimonanthus.
It is also a valuable wildlife plant, with its flowers providing a welcome source of nectar to late foraging bees and other insects while the birds love the masses of juicy berries that follow.
Mahonia are hardy, undemanding plants, which need very little attention from us once planted. Slow growing, they are best on a well drained, slightly acidic soil, although they are mostly unfussy plants - simply avoid boggy soil and protect them from wind and frost, which may scorch their leaves and young buds.
They are best grown in full or partial shade but will also tolerate bright sun. Give plants a mulch in the autumn to protect the roots from the cold and prune mahonia after flowering to stop them getting bare, leggy stems.
Its spiky leaves are an intimidating sight and this is a great plant for intruder proofing your garden. A striking, architectural evergreen throughout the year, grow in mixed borders with winter flowering classics or cut the flowers for the house where they will impart their heavenly scent for days.