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You know those modest unassuming mahonias you find tucked away in a corner in most gardens, doing their stuff in about February with puffs of yellow pompom flowers and then retreating into the background for the rest of the year?

Well – I met one that was 25 feet tall yesterday. It was in the garden of a client of mine and he was asking me to prune it back, since it hadn’t been touched in the 20 years or so since it was planted. It’s such a magnificent plant: craggy bark like a crocodile’s skin, bright yellow wood and these wonderful, architectural leaves. This time of the year it’s hung with strings of bluish-green beads which eventually will develop into black seeds (apparently they can be eaten and are known as Oregon grapes in the US).

Normally you only ever see these as shrubs a few feet high if you’re lucky. But what nobody tells you is that they can serve as small multi-stemmed trees if they’re happy enough. They can be stooled and grown from the base if they get leggy, but though this one is, it’s also very deeply architectural and quite amazing to look at, so I’m very hesitant about butchering it. With special plants like these, taking your secateurs (or pruning saw, in this case) to them is a doubly scary thing to do. I shall ponder for another week before I have to finally make a decision next Thursday.

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