If you want one plant that will light your garden up throughout winter then it’s got to be Cornus Midwinter Fire. During the summer this shrub can be quite unassuming but come winter its stems show their fiery nature and it becomes evident where they get their name from.

Cornus sanguinea, commonly known as blood twig dogwood, European dogwood or common dogwood, is a twiggy, multi-stemmed, deciduous shrub that typically matures to approx.. 2m tall. It is native to northern Europe and northwestern Asia. The dull white flowers bloom in loose clusters in May to early June. However, forget the flowers as this little shrub is all about the autumn and winter. Cornus should be managed and maintained in a way to ensure you get the best of those great stems and autumn leaf colour.

It is thought that the common name ‘dogwood’ derives from the use of the stems to make ‘dags’ (daggers, skewers or arrows). The name may have started out as dagwood and eventually became dogwood. The Genus name comes from the Latin word cornu meaning horn in probable reference to the strength and density of the wood. The species name ‘sanguinea‘ is the Latin for ‘bloody’ or ‘blood-red’, referring to the colour of the stems. This particular cultivar was discovered in a German garden by H.Venhorst around 1980, and named ‘Midwinter Fire’ in 1990.

Cornus are best grown in organically rich soils in full sun to part shade. It is tolerant of a wide range of different soil types but prefers consistently moist, well-drained soils. The best stem colour occurs on young stems and although pruning is not required, if you want to make the best of that winter display, it is advisable to prune at least once every couple of years. Pruning can include removing 20-25% of the oldest stems in early spring of each year to stimulate growth of new stems or can be as savage as pruning right down to the ground on an annual basis.

This fabulous little shrub can be used in so many different types of schemes, its versatility making it very popular in both domestic and commercial planting schemes. They look best planted in groups in front of a dark background but can be used as a single specimen in smaller schemes too. I like to use them as a back drop to summer flowering herbaceous where their leafy structure provides a great back drop for the summer flowers. One of my favourite combinations include Geranium Patricia planted in front of the Cornus. The stems of the geranium climb into the cornus with the flowers poking out form the leafy structure. When the herbaceous then dies down in the winter, the cornus comes alive and ensures that you still have some interest in the garden during those grey gloomy days.