Dogwoods, members of the Cornus family, are often the unsung heroes of the winter garden. Although there are exceptions, in summer they tend to be unremarkable. This is because they are covered in foliage when daylight hours are longer and their crowning glory is their bark which can only be seen when the leaves have fallen.
In winter however, shrubby dogwoods dress themselves in shades of gold, bright green, dark purple, scarlet and orange. In a large garden, a border can be devoted to a mixed dogwood planting. They look good when underplanted with spring flowering bulbs and they live very happily together with some subjects such as Hostas.
Of all the dogwoods however, the one which should be chosen to light up the garden in winter and which is wonderful as a stand-alone shrub in a small garden is Cornus sanguinea Midwinter Fire. This is surely one of the most striking of the shrubby dogwoods. In winter its bark colours into a fiery mixture of yellows, golds, orange and red. Without wishing in any way to be heretical it is truly a burning bush.
And what amazing fuel! From the end of October through to the end of March the bark of Cornus Midwinter Fire lights up any garden in any weather. It glows on a dark and gloomy day and when the sun is shining, as it is today it positively shines. I cannot think of another garden shrub that radiates such light and beauty over such an extended period of time, especially in the winter months. It really has no rival and every garden should have one.
Where should I plant a Dogwood?
All shrubby dogwoods are best planted about now in soil with plenty of organic matter as they prefer a little moisture at their feet. Having said which the dogwood that inspired this piece is growing on top of what in Somerset is called a bund, which is a relatively steep bank which therefore drains remarkably well. It is thriving. Allow your plant room to grow, a healthy specimen will be just over a metre tall and will spread to as much across. Position it, if you can, where it catches some afternoon sun and where you can see it from a window on a rainy afternoon.
It is best to let newly planted Dogwood grow without interruption in its first year. Just make sure it is well watered until it is in full growth and then let it get on with life. Midwinter Fire like all dogwoods is vigorous and will put on good growth through the summer. You will get a good show of coloured bark in the first winter. When the rest of the garden begins to come to life usually towards the end of March, your Midwinter Fire is down to the ground. Literally. This is because it is only the young bark on shrubby dogwoods that colours well in winter. So if you can't find anywhere else for a Midwinter Fire Dogwood, then place it at the back of an herbaceous border. When the border dies down in late autumn, the dogwood can take over.