Few editors would now produce a gardening journal without colour images and yet back in 1979 when The Plantsman started, the only illustrations were a few black and white drawings. However the very first edition still carries a definitive description of ‘The Hybrids between Mahonia japonica and M. lomariifolia‘ by C. D. Brickell. This academic paper describes Mahonia x media and ten of its clones and also gives the history of the cultivar ‘Charity’.
In 1950 or 51, John Russell of Richmond Nurseries Windlesham saw a large batch of seed raised plants of M. lomariifolia at the Slieve Donard Nursery in Co. Down and obtained 100 specimens to grow on at Richmond Nurseries. Sir Eric Savill selected six of these plants, three of which showed some slight foliage variations, and planted them out at The Savill Garden in Windsor Great Park in 1952/3. When these plants started to flower in 1957 it was immediately apparent that one of them differed significantly from the parent plant. This was found to be a naturally occuring hybrid between M. lomariifolia and M. japonica, stock plants of both species having been grown close to each other at the Slieve Donard Nursery. This seedlings was named ‘Charity’ and the original plant can still be seen at The Savill Garden. The irony of this story is that Mr Slinger of Slieve Donard had been trying to deliberately produce a worthwhile cross for many years. Of the seedlings retained by the nursery another fine and distinct cultivar with the same parentage is ‘Winter Sun’.
‘Charity’ has a remarkably long flowering period, from October to March, and appears to be hardy throughout the British Isles unlike its maternal parent M. lomariifolia. To see more types of Mahonia, visit the National Plant Collection at The Savill Garden where you can get free entry during December.
The RHS libraries keep bound copies of The Plantsman (now produced in full colour) if you would like to read the full text of this 1979 paper.