A bright idea for winter

Another day, another dogwood – and 
although Cornus mas (the Cornelian cherry) may not be considered the most attractive of trees, it makes a statement in winter.

Cornus mas

While the likes of its vibrant-stemmed cousins, such as C alba, are just about everywhere, C mas is not so popular, but every February it explodes with a mass of small yellow flowers on its leafless branches.

In late summer, it also produces bright red berries – very bitter and best used for making jam –and, come autumn, an acceptable flash of fall colour. It’s ideal grown as a specimen in a sunny spot where it could eventually reach 15ft in height.

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Cornus mas is native to parts of central and southern Europe as well as western Asia, and has been grown here for several centuries, although there are probably not a lot of folk who could identify it.

Which is a shame because it can light up a dull and dismal February day. Those brilliant-yellow flowers are borne in small umbels held on short, twiggy sideshoots which defy even the coldest spells. The leaves aren’t up to much but they do take on purple tints in autumn.

C mas isn’t very fast-growing but give it a decade and it can reach 12ft to 15ft in height and almost as much across.

The fruits, aren’t very numerous in Britain (summers aren’t rarely warm enough to encourage a good harvest) but they are edible and can be made into preserves.

Over the years, a number of cultivars of C mas have been selected and named as having distinct garden value. Most notable is ‘Golden Glory’, which has won the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. It flowers prolifically even when it’s quite young.

Cornus mas ‘Variegata’ is a medium-sized shrub with a thick white margin to the grey-green leaves and a reputation for berrying quite freely.

C mas ‘Aurea’ has completely yellow leaves that turn greenish-yellow as the season wears on.

Variegated forms do best out of direct sun; too many rays will burn the leaves. They also do best out of the line of cold winds.

C mas is relatively easy to grow and demands little attention. It is very hardy, but it fruits best when planted somewhere warm –against a south-facing wall is ideal. It also appreciates a decent soil. Worth considering.