Golden Japanese Barberry
Doth climb to me,
With golden barberry-wreath,
And bluets thick beneath."
-Louise Imogen Guiney
The former owners planted four stickery Red Barberries & two slightly less stickery Golden Barberries when they were all small & of equal size. By the time we bought the house, the Reds were six feet tall & almost as wide, whereas the Golden were dwarfs only one-third the size of the Reds. The smaller shrubs were nearly lost in a wall of large ones.
Since there wasn't room for all those shrubs, I ended up moving two of the red barberries & one of the golden to the street margin. Not only had the larger shrubs kept it from sufficient light, but a thick groundcover of Vinca minor completely hid the lower portion of the little shrub, depriving it even of its share of water. When I moved it, it was in very poor condition & I considered throwing it away, but didn't have the heart.
That one sadly struggling specimen was one of the first things I moved to what eventually became a significant roadside garden, but which was initially a "get rid of" area of things I wanted out of the main gardens. So at first, when it was a lonely reject on the parking margin, it didn't get much care, being left to fend for itself.
The first year after I moved the Golden Barberry, it looked like it might die. The two red barberries moved to near the same area transplanted without too much stress & bushed out quickly, but the Golden variety is more slow-growing to begin with, & this poor thing had just had a hard life overall. But come the second year, it clearly preferred its new location. After three years, it still hasn't caught up with the one I never moved, perhaps because golden barberries quite naturally have a slower growth rate in full sun than in partial shade.
The photograph at the right is of this shrub alongside a little hybrid Scotch Broom called 'Lilac Time.' There are some other drought-tolerant shrubs nearby, just out of camera's range. In this often dry area, an unexpected baby Golden Barberry sprang up from the ground about three feet away, which was quite the surprise since the other barberry shrubs, none of which struggled as much as this one, have ever had young plants spring up anywhere nearby.
The other, unmoved Golden Barberry had always looked fuller & healthier, though it had shown lesser signs of not enjoying the vinca all over its lower limbs, or the excessive shade from larger shrubs. When I removed all the vinca, & trimmed back the larger shrubs to open things up for the little Golden Barberry, it began to flourish with especially bright colors, for the yellows are much richer if this shrub gets sufficient sunlight.
The picture at the top of the page is of this better specimen in its emerging early April foliage. The bottom photo here at the left is of the same little shrub in full leafage late in May. The purple blooms mixing in are on a limb of a 'Java Red' Weigela, another inherited shrub that struggled in this location & was eventually moved to a sunny spot.
The tiny yellow flowers which appear in May are pretty much impossible to see on such yellow leaves. The tiny red berries appear in summer, & some of these will still be on the branches after the leaves have turned from golden to orange then fallen, though the berries are not nearly so many or lasting as on the large red barberry shrubs.
Because the Golden is smaller & tamer than the standard Red (& a cultivar called 'Monlers' or Golden Nugget Barberry smaller still), it is vastly less inclined to grow "in the way" & scratch people with nasty thorns. But for some kinds of locations where dogs & cats have been a nuisance, the Golden Barberry or even the smaller more fully dwarfed barberries make good hedges or groundcovers that keep neighbors' pets from squatting. Barberries can also serve as security barriers generally, & is a shrub liked by gardeners who have to contend with deer.
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