Lose the blooms and just look at those stems

Do you want a plant for its flowers or for the brilliant colour of its stems?

SEEING RED: The vivid stems of Cornus.

Well, with Cornus alba, the dogwood, the vast majority of gardeners plump for the second option because it’s worth losing the blooms for the stunning colour of those bare stems.

C alba ‘Elegantissima’ has pale green and white variegated foliage, which, in itself, is highly attractive, but come late autumn, when those leaves have fallen, and the true beauty of the plant is revealed. Like its close relative, C alba ‘Spatheii’, its stems are an in-your-eye red.

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And for an even bigger blaze of colour, there’s ‘Westonbirt’ for lighting up a drab winter’s day.

If crimson isn’t the king of your colours, plant C stolonifera ‘Flaviramea’ whose foliage turns yellow before falling in autumn to reveal yellow stems.

To make the most of your dogwoods for winter splendour, you have to sacrifice the blooms which appear on two-year-old wood. The key to encouraging those blazing stems is to hard prune every spring. Farewell flowers, hello a multitude of colourful canes.

Sometimes, you have to be cruel to be kind. Or you have to do something that goes against the grain. Hence, cut stems back to within an inch of their base.