It’s possible to have a winter garden filled with drama and interest. At this time of year evergreens come out of the shadows and take front stage, conifers shine in the low winter light and the strongly scent of daphne drifts on the breeze awakening the senses. Textural bark and coloured stems are also must-have elements for this season and apart from my absolute favourite tree, the paperbark maple, Acer griseum, the dogwoods are essential planting with stems ranging from green, orange and red.
At RHS Rosemoor we are fortunate to have several Plant Heritage National Plant Collections – hollies and dogwoods – both of which come alive in the winter months. The dogwoods, known as Cornus, are a big family but can be split into the coloured stems and the flowering tree types originating from Japan and China, which flower in May and June.
The stem dogwoods are a firm winter favourite and there are many to choose from. New forms have been selected and named in recent years and at RHS Hyde Hall a plant trial is taking place to determine which are the best selections. In my mind one has stood the test of time – Cornus alba 'Sibirica'. This form has been around since the 1830s and has the most vibrant crimson stems. It was awarded the AGM many years ago for being an outstanding garden plant so we’ll see if it retains its crown following the trial.
Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ is a very easy plant to grow. It requires well-drained soil in full sun or semi shade. In fact, the sunnier the spot the brighter the stems tend to be. Once it is established, pruning is key to keep the stem colour crisp. Cut back to ground level at the end of March to allow the stems to grow back during the summer months. Cornus is easy to propagate from hardwood cuttings.
Plant in front of something evergreen to highlight the stems. We also brighten the base of these with snowdrops.