During winter, devoted gardeners on the Pacific coast learn to find beauty in subtlety. We enjoy the muted shades of bronze and purple brought out by cold weather on certain rhododendrons and cryptomeria, the icy blue of some cedrus and spruce cultivars and the rustling tan of frost-kissed ornamental grasses. There are a few plants, however, that shine brightly on leaden coastal winter days and one of the most brilliant is a shrubby dogwood named appropriately, Midwinter Fire.
Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ was discovered in a German garden by H. Venhorst in about 1980, but wasn’t named ‘Midwinter Fire’ until 1990. RHS website
This vigorous shrub is hardy to -15 Celsius and tolerant of a range of exposures, but plenty of sunshine produces the most vividly coloured stems. Just like the other shrubby dogwoods that are grown for winter colour, the stems need renewing regularly or they will become corky and brown with age. This is easily done by removing several of the oldest stems each year, prompting the plant to continually throw up fresh stems with the vibrancy that youth bestows. If only that were so for people; I’m feeling rather corky, brown and fissured…
Last summer I planted a little Midwinter Fire shrub in the new garden we created in the middle of the back yard. I’d had it in a winter container with some heather, a little conifer and a few mini tulips but when that display was done it needed out, so out it went. I placed it strategically in the foreground with a rhododendron ‘Black Satin’ behind it (from the vantage point of my house) so that the two will dance together during the winter months. Black Satin is so named for its foliage, which darkens with cold temperatures. It’s not much of a show yet as both plants are still fairly small but I’m looking forward to a glorious winter display of orange, scarlet and peachy stems against the rich purple-black rhodo leaves as the two size up in future years.