Plant of The Month: Cornus alba Elegantissima
There are a few plants that help us through the winter gloom and Cornus is one of them. With their vibrantly coloured stems they provide fantastic structure in winter gardens and also contrast with early bulbs, especially the pure white of snowdrops. Later in the year, if left to flower, the large white bracts provide colour in the summer garden too.
It is a large and varied genus, made up of 65 species of mainly deciduous shrubs and small trees. C. alba, C. sericea and C. sanguinea are the main producers of the coloured stemmed varieties. Cornus alba Elegantissima is probably my favourite and I use it a lot – its usefulness as a backdrop to summer flowering herbaceous planting with great winter structure, makes it a valuable part of any planting scheme.
Cornus alba hails from Siberia, north China and Korea. Elegantissima is a cultivar of Cornus alba which has deep red stems, greyish green, white-margined leaves, small, creamy-white flowers and clusters of white berries. For the best show of red stems in autumn, cut them back hard each March. It’s tolerant of a wide range of soil types and produces the brightest winter bark when planted in full sun.
Cornus alba Elegantissima looks fantastic when planted with evergreen shrubs and among spring flowers. However, I use it often as a specimen in a herbaceous scheme with a geranium, like Patricia, snaking its way through the summer foliage. It can be contained to a small space as long as its pruned yearly, making it suitable for smaller schemes too. Its a versatile shrub with so many attributes, however its best quality has to be the bright Red stems creating drama in the winter garden.