Adding dogwoods

A variegated ‘Silver Cloud’ redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘Silver Cloud’) leans against the small greenhouse at a sixty degree angle, assuring that its removal is imminent. The redbud has leaned for several years, tipping a bit more each year, and the recent heavy snow contributed additional lean. A second severely leaning ‘Silver Cloud’ was removed a year ago, though its roots remain and now there are numerous suckers growing, all with variegated foliage. With a second year of growth the most substantial stems will be kept and the others cut away.

Autumn foliage of ‘Scarlet Fire’. Hopefully, its flowers will be equally colorful.

It is a mystery why both long established redbuds (at least twenty years old) began leaning so severely. I expect that removal will be required for the currently leaning tree, so anticipating this prominent gap I have planted a red flowering ‘Scarlet Fire’ Kousa dogwood (late autumn foliage color of Cornus kousa ‘Scarlet Fire’, above). A pink flowered ‘Satomi’ dogwood (below), too shaded beneath the Bigleaf magnolia (magnolia macrophylla) faded and was removed a year ago, but it rarely displayed more than a slight blush of pink. I am hopeful that ‘Scarlet Fire’ will be more colorful, and this should be a marvelous contrast to its background of tall yellow and orange azaleas.

‘Satomi’ dogwood flowering in Oregon where its flower color is much more intense than in my Virginia garden.

With no prior planning, the past year added several new dogwoods to the garden as several larger trees became available. A new ‘Wolf Eyes’ dogwood (Cornus kousa ‘Wolf Eyes’, below) was planted to replace one that perished in the damp lower, rear garden, but now in much drier ground. ‘Wolf Eyes’ is similar in appearance to the more upright growing ‘Samaritan’, but more spreading in form. I couldn’t resist. 

‘Wolf Eyes’ dogwood

Two areas in the upper, rear garden are fully planted, but both lacked something, so I was fortunate to find two Pagoda dogwoods (Cornus alternifolia, below), a native that I just had to have after seeing a small colony while hiking the nearby Appalachian trail. Close proximity to stone paths will require a bit of pruning, but the tiered branching should be ideal so that eventually I will walk under the small trees. Properly inspired (perhaps overly inspired), I’ve ordered a small variegated Pagoda (Cornus alternifolia ‘Argentea’) that will reside in a pot until it grows large enough, and when I figure out where it can be planted.

Pagoda dogwood just before flowering on the trail (above), and berries after flowering in the garden.

The evergreen dogwood has intrigued me since I saw one years ago at the National Arboretum, but until recently I’d not seen one of sufficient size. In recent years a branded, evergreen dogwood, ‘Empress of China’ (Cornus elliptica ‘Elsbry’, below) has been introduced, and finally I found one tipping five feet tall. Fortunately, there was a prominent spot open to plant it, and otherwise it’s likely something would have been sacrificed to clear an opening.

Flower buds are prominent on ‘Empress of China’ in late autumn.

When a large, yellow tipped yew (Taxus baccata ‘Dovastonii Aurea’) was chopped out a year ago, planting a variegated leaf ‘Celestial Shadow’ (below) was an easy choice to partially fill the large void. My first consideration is always a Japanese maple, but in a shadier spot dogwoods are always next in line where a tree will fit. Another had been lost to overly damp soil in the rear garden, and this was an ideal spot for the upright growing dogwood.


Among plants on order for spring are three ‘Compressa’ shrub dogwoods (Cornus sanguinea ‘Compressa’). At least one of the crinkled leaf dogwoods will be planted in a damp area where a struggling parrotia was recently transplanted to a drier spot. There are plenty of other nearby areas with damp soil where the other two can be planted, or all three could be clumped to fill this space. While other red and yellow twigged dogwoods suffer severely from leaf spotting, I suspect the heavier substance of the leaves of ‘Compressa’ will be resistant. In any case, this dogwood should thrive in the damp conditions.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Valerie says:

    Thank you for identifying plants that can thrive in damp ground!!!

    1. Dave says:

      Damp soil is a challenge. References often suggest plants that tolerate moist soils, but that are well drained. Several shrubs I’ve planted in always damp ground survive, but barely grow, so this is a trial and error process.

  2. Thanks for this — you may have solved a garden problem for me by describing Empress of China! I need to plant an understory tree, in an area where a few dogwoods already flourish, but I need it to be evergreen to provide some screen from the lot behind us. Empress of China might do nicely!

    1. Dave says:

      I saw what I thought to be an evergreen Kousa dogwood years ago along a wood line at the National Arboretum, long before the tree was introduced into commerce. I’ve wanted one ever since.

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