Monday, March 18, 2013

Golden boughs: Cornelian cherry underappreciated gem for the garden!

Cornus mas at Denver Botanic Gardens
In Denver everyone plants forsythias, which rarely get through a bloom cycle without being frosted and turning a painful shade of black. But there is a tree that seems to make it through the most severe frosts undamaged, and which blooms even earlier than forsythias, and which has a grace of bearing and shimmering, subtle beauty that appeals to the higher senses (even if the oi polloi may not be impressed), namely Cornelian Cherry. Not only does it produce a wonderful display for sometimes several weeks in February or March, but it produces bumper crops of edible fruits in late summer...

A tad closer up view of Cornelian cherry in bloom
Pictures don't really do this plant justice: you must come up onto this plant in a clearing, backlit, in the early morning or late afternoon when it shimmers with a positively Holy light of chartreuse, golden glory, reminiscent of cathedrals filled with mosaics, or subalpine meadows flush with glacier lilies...scenes of transcendent splendor. I think this plant should be in every garden...starting with my own of course. This is the year I must get one!

A lonely blossom--and this wonderful tree has a cousin that's found further east in Eurasia: Cornus officinalis is similar, perhaps a bit more willowy and graceful of habit, but with the same brassy, golden flowers and berries too. My buddy, Bill Barnes, who lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania with his wife Marie have a wonderful 20' specimen in their front yard I've admired day in and day out as he has driven me and Jan all over this amazing area to see spectacular gardens. I've taken lots of pictures, but shall not download them for a bit (technical difficulties with a cable left in Palos Verdes Estates you see)...but perhaps in a week or two I can append a few of the cousin for you to compare...

Philadelphia and the Delaware valley pride themselves on their multiplicity of great Gardens and a nursery scene that truly dazzles. Even in early spring, with the daffodils barely beginning and the hellebores in full swing, the gardens I have visited are as good as it gets. Expect some retrospective blogs in the coming weeks as I get up to speed....

Oh, would that it were spring forever!


  1. How about winter witchazels? There is a yellow variety that reliably blooms in front of Denver Botanic Gardens Waring House. It probably likes that microculture If it were accompanied with the dependable orange of the Jelena witchazel or some of the reds ( Diane, Birgit ) or purples ( Purpurea, amethyst ) the effect would be stunning;

  2. Hi Panayoti,

    very nice habit has the shrub at your picture! How tall and how old is this one? Cornus mas is native in the south of the Netherlands, and very commom in parcs here. But I´ve never seen such a nice fastigiate form like this! Here its more a broad branching shrub growing up to 6 meters. So if it´s is not caused by the drier climate, you may have a very nice form there!
    Gerard van Buiten

  3. Oh sages, standing in God's holy fire,
    As in the gold mosaic of a wall...

    To keep a drowsy emperor awake,
    Or sit upon a golden bough to sing

    (Although the boughs of this Cornelian cherry would probably not support the weight of a gold enameled mechanical bird)

    1. Mr. or Ms Anonymous: you know me only too well. This morning I myself (in fact) composed a Constinopolitan sonnet glimmering with a bit of tesselation too. Not exactly Yeatsian...more Cavafian in manner. I shall like Cornelian cherries all the more for your comment.

  4. Just noticed your comments, Gerard and Stephen: first you, Gerard: we have not one but two very compact, beautiful specimens in our Fragrance garden which both have this wonderful form. They were purchased locally. They have not been shaped since they were planted 12 years ago. They may have been shaped a bit in the nursery before that. I would guess they are maybe 10 feet tall: we shall have to take some cuttings and see if they stay like this (they are well watered and other trees around them grow more rangy). You are right: I have not seen such nicely compact ones elsewhere. I agree that witch hazels are lovely, but they do experience freeze damage on the bloom most years: not as reliable as the Cornelian cherry in my book!


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