The dogwoods are a cosmopolitan bunch. Three groupings are typified by flowering trees such as Cornus kousa or Cornus mas. The fourth grouping is probably the best known and is exemplified by Cornus alba ‘Sibirca’.
These shrubs are extremely accommodating and versatile garden plants. They have white flowers and small fleshy berries but they are best known for their fabulous rich, red autumn and winter colour, offered by both the leaves and the stems. Stem colour fades with age so to maintain impact, they must be pruned hard back every year (during March, before bud burst) either to the ground or pollarded to form small trees.
Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ is extremely easy to grow and thrives on a range of soils, with the exception of very dry or shallow soils. They are at home in wet ground and can often be found alongside lakes, where their winter appeal is enhanced by the reflection of their colour in the water. The fresh cuttings arising from pruning each year can simply be planted immediately in the soil where they will root happily and provide more colour year on year. Fantastic value for money!
For maximum effect, Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ is best planted in groups. Always think in odd numbers – perhaps 3, 5, or 7 in a border where their vertical stems will add interesting colour and texture. Look at this fabulous grouping with Helleborus foetidus ‘Red Silver’ that I spotted last winter at Cambridge Botanic Gardens.
Block planting in the tens and hundreds with other colours such as the yellow Cornus stolonifera ‘Flaviramera’ and the pinky red Cornus sanguinea ‘Anny’s Winter Orange’ creates spectacular backdrops. This fabulous grouping gladdens the heart on a cold winter’s day at the Savill Gardens in Windsor, below left. The white stems of the Betula utilis var. jacqumontii create a striking contrast.
Give it a go! Their ease of cultivation and outstanding winter value mean that you have nothing to lose – particularly if you can get your hands on some free cuttings!