By Karen Chapman of Le Jardinet

Evergreen plants form the structural bones of the landscape, offering color and form throughout the year. They also offer a supporting role to more flamboyant garden personalities and act as a backdrop to ephemeral spring beauties. When they do all that and also contribute seasonal blooms themselves they become indispensable – such is the case with Soft Caress mahonia.

Feathery green foliage is held in loose layers to create a soft, fluffy mound. This becomes the perfect foil for the bright golden-yellow blooms, reminiscent of short shuttlecocks that appear in spring and fall.

This easy-care, waterwise shrub thrives in partial shade where its compact habit is sure to be a welcome addition to even the smallest of gardens.

Here are two ideas for using Soft Caress mahonia in combinations that celebrate the start of the gardening season.

Spring Sweethearts

Use the mounding foliage of Soft Caress mahonia as an evergreen backdrop to the perennial Goldheart bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Goldheart’). The vivid yellow leaves and pendulous, pink heart-shaped flowers of this popular spring-blooming perennial benefit from the backdrop of the rich green mahonia, while the yellow spring blooms of the shrub will echo the foliage color of the bleeding heart.

When the perennial fades away in mid-summer, the mahonia will continue to add interest to the border and hold its place until the following year.

A carpet of pink-hued coral bells (Heuchera) would reinforce the pink perennial blooms while adding year-round contrast to the mahonia.

Spring Delight

Refresh your spring garden with this elegant, low maintenance combination. Highlight the fern-like green leaves and yellow blooms of Soft Caress mahonia by combining them with the lemon and lime variegated foliage of Miss Lemon™ Abelia (Abelia grandiflora hydrid). Both will thrive in partial shade and only need occasional watering once established.

Enhance the scene with a swath of spring blooming Monte Cristo hellebore (Helleborus x ericsmithii Gold Collection Monte Cristo). This evergreen perennial features bold, blue-green foliage that will add contrasting texture to the smaller leaved abelia and an abundance of creamy-white blooms each with a prominent boss of yellow stamens.

The finishing touch might be a cluster of bronze New Zealand hair sedge (Carex comans 'Bronze'), which like all the plants in this combination, will grow well in partial shade and needs little supplemental water once established. This finely textured grass would add year-round color and introduce a contrasting leaf shape to the vignette.

Soft Caress mahonia, Soft Caress Oregon grape (Mahonia 'Soft Caress' PP20183)

Hardiness; USDA zones 7-11, Sunset zones 4-9, 14-24

Light; Part sun, shade

Water; Low

Mature size; 3' H x 3' W