Winter Stems
Gardens Illustrated|November 2017

As flowers and foliage fade in the approaching winter months, these trees and shrubs offer fiery colour

Andy McIndoe

A walk through the winter beds at Savill Garden on a grey, frosty day will convince anyone that plant stems can deliver one of the most colourful displays in the garden. The glowing stems of gold, flame and scarlet dogwoods around the ghostly stems of white-barked birches, or midwinter willows reflected in the icy Long Water are an unforgettable sight.

The red-barked dogwood, Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ was one of the shrubs I remember from my first winter at university. It was presented as a red stick in a weekly plant identification class. At the time I was not particularly interested in anything that was hardy and easy to grow. When finally I encountered it growing alongside water – those flame-coloured wands lit by low winter sun – I understood its appeal. I still saw it as a one-season wonder, dull green and boring for the rest of the year until I discovered it in its autumn glory at RHS Garden Rosemoor; crimson leaves backlit by sunlight transform this shrub into one of the stars of the autumn garden. Altogether five months of colourful interest, more than most hardy plants.

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