Dogwood delights

A nurseryman once told me, with casual dismissiveness, that dogwoods belong only in carparks and on roundabouts. Like most gardeners I too have my botanical aversions, but I do object to this wanton demonisation of the dogwood.

I say this with particular force just now, as the Winter is coming to its end. For without doubt during these past months in the arboretum field adjacent to the main Dumfriesshire garden, it is dogwoods that have been the star performers, whatever the weather conditions.

In this case, I’m talking specifically about  Cornus Alba Siberica and Cornus Sericea Flaviramea. Both are members of the maligned dogwood family. About five years ago, I planted the first of these as a three metre circle of nine small bright red plants. A couple of years later I added nine of the yellow-green form, as a circular clump inside the ring. Then I left them to get established. In Spring 2021 and 2022 both sets of shrubs were pruned hard for the first time, right back to their strengthening stool. A kind of small scale pollarding.

From this they quickly recovered, sending out numerous whippy shoots that soon burst into sharp green leaves with elegant curving veins. As the stems grew tall and slender, and the summer advanced, beautiful bracts of creamy-white flowers appeared, grouped in clusters, each flower with four petals. The plant then self-pollinated to produce small black fruits, known as dog berries.

In autumn the leaves of Siberica turned fiery red and then faded to the colour of parchment, whilst Flaviramea kept its yellow-green for much longer; as we can see here on this tour de cornus:

Despite such splendour, it is when the last leaves drop, that the dogwood’s most important season comes upon us.

As the Winter progresses the shrubs in the circle pay back many times over, the modest effort that has been required in their cultivation. Now the sanguinous outer stems deepen to the colour of young claret, whilst the inner plants take on the colour of fresh celery, newly bought from the farm shop.

Each day in the Winter months, I’ve made a point of walking the mown path that encircles these humble yet striking plants. In the dullest conditions they draw you towards them. Examined close up on a frosty morning, the red and green are set off by white crystals of ice that seem to sugar the stems in an ephemeral dusting. From a distance, when the sun is shining low and sharp, the whole ensemble calls out across the field, bright, optimistic and a celebration of complementary colour in the darkest months. As I drive home and glance over the drystone wall, the dogwoods seem to greet me, eye-catching and perfectly situated in the old meadow, surrounded by growing oaks, beeches, and birch.

Which is why last autumn and with the aid of couple of young people who were visiting from the south, I planted a slightly smaller circle, not far from the original. The plants were grown from cuttings taken in the spring at the time of the big haircut. We planted them in reverse order from the first circle: this time red inside, green on the outer. They’ll no doubt take a few years to get going, but ‘like the circles that you find in the windmills of your mind’ I plan more cuttings and more dogwood rings, clumped together in groups. What a delight!

An earlier version of this piece appeared in Garden Musings on 22nd February 2022.

Published by David Graham Clark

I am a sociologist and writer. Pieces on this site include reflective writings, stories, and memoir on aspects of daily life, along with associated images and videos. In these various ways I try to illuminate what I call the quotidian world, particularly my own.

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