The dogwood or the cornus are common small trees in our English landscape and planted a lot by motorways and in public parks. But two special dogwoods are looking magnificent in the Wild Garden: Cornus controversa variegata and Cornus alternifolia argentea. Go down the main path and on your right you’ll see two variegated trees; well, one’s a bush and the other’s definitely a tree. They are just in flower and a wonderful sight.
They are cousins from different ends of the world and both can be called the “wedding cake tree” from the way their branches fan out in layers and their flowers stand like candles on the branches. Cornus controversa variegata (the tree) comes from the Himalayas, China and Japan and was imported to the UK in the 1880s or 1890s by the famous Veitch’s Nursery of Exeter (the Veitch family helped start Chelsea Flower Show). Its bushy cousin however comes from North America – from Newfoundland to the Mississippi – and is also called the “pagoda dogwood”.
Nobody’s certain why dogwoods are so called but they have had the name from the 17th century. One suggestion is that because their wood was used for wooden skewers (then called “dags”) the “dagwood” became the dogwood. Same word as dagger btw. Another early name was the “whippletree” in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, part of horse harness.