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Why this useful plant deserves a better reputation

PUBLISHED: 09:53 07 March 2018 | UPDATED: 09:53 07 March 2018

Dogwood: A useful and attractive hedging plant that's very wildlife-friendly.

Dogwood: A useful and attractive hedging plant that's very wildlife-friendly.

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Dogwood is a plant that’s often overlooked but it deserves a lot more, says Grace Corne.

What is a wood? Of course it is trees but a real wood is so much more. A mistake often made by new owners of woods is to ‘clear them out and tidy them up’. This not only interferes with a complex ecosystem, it makes the woods incredibly cold and draughty. Ideally, shrubs and bushes should be grown on the edges of woods to help make the warm, secure and windproof hedges for wildlife.

We have been looking for plants for just such positions, and last year we purchased some dogwoods. It was a risk because the soil is poor and is not particularly chalky which these plants prefer, but they have thrived. We might regret it later as the dogwoods are famous for producing numerous suckers, but the conspicuous red stems are very cheering in a cold, wet winter.

Dogwood has been used for centuries as a hedging plant, but was more common in earlier times and in some places it has fallen out of favour altogether. It is well worth growing and mature shrubs produce numerous clusters of white flowers in June and July. These are very attractive to insects and produce a scent which some find pleasing and others dislike intensely. In the autumn the dogwoods produce black berries which are popular with birds, and the seeds contained in the berries germinate readily. The shrubs give even more pleasure to the gardeners in the autumn when the foliage will also turn bright red.

The dogwood is not usually a tall bush and it never develops thick wood. However its wood is very hard and its most common use in the past was for the production of meat skewers. Often these were made by gipsies to be sold at the door.

There are several explanations offered for the origin of the name ‘dogwood.’ If small branches containing berries and leaves were infused the resulting liquid was used to eliminate mange in dogs, but it is more likely that the ‘dog’ was a derogatory term for a plant considered inferior with its unpalatable berries and wood too small for general use.


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