Flames to Stave Off a Winter Chill

by rodney eason

in Cutting Garden, Plants, Unearthed

When my wife and I first started dating 16 years ago, she revealed to me at some point that her dream car would always be a fire engine red, Saab convertible. She has held onto that dream all of these years even through four kids, four cats, two dogs, and one husband. She has driven mini-vans, sport-utility vehicles, and even that 1987 Toyota pickup with the broken seat and 190,000 miles that we still wish we would have kept. Next week, finally, I will be able to fulfill her dream. I bought her a red hot, open-top hunk of metal. Sort of.

red saab, red stove, winter flame dogwood www.studiogblog.com

It is not a Saab. But the top does open. And it is red. And it will make her feel great. Does it matter that the top opens so you can insert another stick of wood? What more would a mother raising four kids in a 130 year old farmhouse on the coast of Maine want but a candy-apple red wood stove? I know what you are thinking. This is so romantic, right? Besides, the Saab is probably horrible in the snow. At least our family is really excited about getting a wood stove. One of our twin girls, Mia, started wearing two of everything once we moved to Maine. Two pairs of tights, pants, socks, you name it, that girl wears layers. I get the feeling that she is going to college in Florida or Southern California and never coming back.

For those of us who choose to live in Maine and plan on staying here, we seek all sorts of ways to make it through the 4-6 months of winter. Color is a great way to brighten the winter landscape of greys, greens, and browns in the Maine woods. Any color of fire not only warms the soul but pops in the landscape. This brings me to the plant of the week; Cornus sanguinea ‘Winter Flame.’ We were doing some trail work down by the river at the Gardens and I passed by a mass of Winter Flame dogwood. The yellows, oranges, and reds of the stems leapt from the winter landscape. I stopped and wondered why I had never noticed these plants before. After conducting some research on Cornus or Swida sanguinea, I found that they are unremarkable shrubs during the spring and summer months. The leaves actually cover up the brilliant stem colors. They have small, white flowers in late May. The small flowers are typical of the shrubby dogwoods unlike the large brachts of their tree-like relatives. Winter Flame dogwood will then produce small, black berries in the fall as the leaves change to yellow. To me, this shrub really catches on fire in winter after it loses all of its leaves. The stem color is what makes Winter Flame dogwood worth planting in the landscape.

Winter Flame Dogwood

Winter Flame dogwood is not fussy. It is hardy from USDA zone 5 to zone 7b and can grow well in part-shade to sun. If you have a somewhat moist site, any of the Cornus sanguinea will do well in this condition. It is native to Europe and Winter Flame was bred by noted plantsman Andre van Nijnatten. Also, as with most shrubby dogwoods, you will want to cut the plants back in early spring every 2-3 years to make sure that the plants have great stem color the following winter. As the stems get older, they turn woody and brown. The younger stems have the best color; yellow near the base, orange in the middle, and red at the tips. Over time, the shrubs can get almost 10′ tall and wide so cutting them back can also keep them within a manageable size.

Swida 'Winter Flame' from Thompson and Morgan

If you are looking for something to add some fire to your winter (besides a red convertible or a wood stove), give Winter Flame dogwood a try.

Do you have Winter Flame or any of the shrubby dogwoods in your garden?

-Rodney

Images: saabsunited.com, rockymountainstove.com, Crocus, Rodney Eason, Thompson and Morgan

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