Our farm in Ohio where I grew up had a long grassy lane, between fields, leading to a woodlot. The lane was lined with huge old dogwoods. I have never since seen dogwood trees this big. It now occurs to me that they might have not been so tall but more likely that I was so small. Anyway, I have been hooked on the beauty of these trees ever since.
The farm trees were probably Cornus florida, the flowering dogwood. It grows in USDA Zones 5-8. The white bracts surround the little yellow insignificant true flowers in the center. These flowers mature into red berries that birds love. In the fall, the leaves turn a very distinctive burgundy color before they drop, lovely close up or from a distance.
It is a native tree that has been “improved” into free flowering specimens with large flowers. They cover the gracefully layered branches in early spring. White is the most popular, but it also comes in pink and dark pink, sometimes referred to as “red.” Flowering dogwoods are edge-of-the-woods trees so finding them a morning sun site with afternoon shade will keep them looking their best. Neighborhoods in my area come alive in early spring with clouds of white. Plant one or two and your neighbors might follow. Your neighborhood could become a beautiful springtime postcard.
Several years ago I interviewed noted English plantsman John Elsley in his garden in Greenwood, South Carolina. At that time, he showed me the parent tree of the soon to be released Cornus angustata ‘Empress of China,’ an Evergreen Chinese Dogwood. Since his garden was full of lush shade plants and tall trees, he squeezed this dogwood into a space out back by an alley.
I am proud to have it growing in my garden now, squeezed into too much shade. Yet, it still blooms for me, starting at a very young age and size (for trees), and continuing every year since I planted it. Its growth has been slow but its blooming has not. It withstands heat and humidity in USDA Zones 6-9. Ideally, you should site it in part shade consisting of sunny mornings and shade during the middle of the day. Even though I don’t have an ideal spot, it sends out plenty of starry bracts on evergreen branches. The flowers have not matured into showy red berries. At least I haven’t noticed them. Perhaps the birds see them before I do. Berried or not, I still love it almost as much as those cloud-like flowering dogwoods.
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By Susan Martin for Proven Winners,
Photographs courtesy of Proven Winners
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