By Kathy Huber, Garden Editor, Houston Chronicle
Tropicals keep Texas gardeners happy during long, hot months. But now that harsh back-to-back winters have at least temporarily reduced plants to ground level, many are looking for evergreens that can take heat and cold. A slew of sun-loving evergreens springs to mind. Short to tall hollies, boxwood and junipers make that list.
But what will work in shade? Not everyone’s soil is suited to azaleas and camellias. And while liriope cares not where it lives, it’s forgettable unless you play the grassy texture against another plant. Holly fern works. So does plum yew, or cephalotaxus.
Years ago, Chinese mahonia answered my shade garden prayers. While it tolerates sun, the 4- to 5-foot shrub remains dense with fewer rays. The narrow, fernlike foliage has toothed margins, so wear gloves when pruning. But a newer introduction is gentler to the touch. I’ve petted the feathery foliage of ‘Soft Caress’ Mahonia as I would the head of a cuddly dog. The non-prickly threadleaf greenery may fool you into thinking you’ve come across a new bamboo or nandina.
As a performer, it’s as tough as its relative. It’s best in morning sun and afternoon shade (or even all-day shade), planted using a well-draining soil.A group of three of them in my garden remains unflustered by heat or nights in the low 20s. A potted fourth also has adapted easily.
The mounding 4-foot- tall and -wide ‘Soft Caress’ would make an attractive accent in a Japanese garden.
Like other mahonias, it produces fingerlike racemes of bright-yellow blooms fall or winter. The fruit that follows is a deep blue.