Year Round Star Factor

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By Karen Chapman of Le jardinet

This will quickly become your new favorite shrub for year round interest in the shade garden. 'Soft Caress' Mahonia (Mahonia ‘Soft Caress' PP20183) combines the bright yellow blooms and drought tolerance of all mahonia with a delicate fern-like texture and a conspicuous absence of thorns. At just 3' tall and wide it is compact enough for a container but can hold its own in the landscape.

Soft Caress shows great design versatility, its layered foliage looking equally at home in contemporary settings, woodland gardens or traditional gardens. Here are two ideas to get you started. Both play off the golden yellow mahonia flowers that will appear in fall and introduce inky-black as an accent, creating a sophisticated combination for a pot or the border. All the plants are evergreen and require less water than most so you can relax knowing that this is a low maintenance vignette that won't let you down.

Contrast the fine texture of Soft Caress mahonia with the bolder leaves of Yellowstone Falls foamy bells (Heucherella Yellowstone Falls'). This superior cascading variety will tumble down the sides of a pot or scramble across the ground, its yellow leaves echoing the color of the mahonia flowers in fall while itself producing an abundance of airy white flowers on slender stalks between spring and late summer. The strappy black foliage of black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens') would show up well against these lighter colored leaves and is a reliable performer for dry shade. In a container just one or two at the edge will suffice but in the landscape you may prefer to plant a swathe of these evergreen grasses. The final addition of Baby Gem™ Buxus (Buxus microphylla var.japonica ‘Gregem' Baby Gem) introduces structure to this loose design, adding a compact mound of bright green glossy foliage. In a formal landscape you may wish to use this as a low hedge but it works equally well as a single plant added to a design for contrast.

Option 1; ideal for a large pot or border

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Option 2; perfect for small spaces

Expand the scheme above or create this smaller combination to stand alone by adding the almost black Obsidian coral bells (Heuchera ‘Obsidian') and the striking golden grass Evercolor® ‘Everillo' Carex (Carex oshimensis ‘Everillo' PP21002) to 'Soft Caress' Mahonia. With three unique leaf shapes, bold colors and flowers from the coral bells and mahonia to look forward to this trio truly gives the shade garden star quality.

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