Thursday, 10 March 2011

The Cornelian Cherry...

Very soon, our gardens and countryside will be awash with gold.... From the tiny, wild, starry celandine flowers studding the fields to the wonderful primroses decorating wayside and woodland clearings and tumbling down shady stream banking. From the cheerful waving narcissus and daffodils flooding out from gardens and grass verges across the county to those bold and brassy forsythia bushes. Everywhere we look, the colour yellow is the floral theme signaling the unmistakable first signs of spring.

Ushering all this in however, as late winter morphs gradually into early spring from February through early March is the Cornelian Cherry, or ‘Cornus mas’ as it is more scientifically known. This large shrub has none of the brash, in your face, full on bling of those forsythias we are so familiar with. Instead, its flowers are smaller and widely spaced on the bare branches giving a much more naturalistic look. 
It is however no less a gardenworthy plant for all that. It season of beauty begins well before our other spring stalwarts get under way and its sight will cheer and warm the heart on the coldest of days. The individual four petalled flowers may be tiny, but they are effectively and tightly grouped in small clusters of a dozen or more. Their slight fragrance and early and easily available nectar make them an irresistible draw for bees breaking a long winter’s enforced dormancy.
Through summer, the plant merges more into the background, and with its open branching nature is a good candidate for growing a summer flowering clematis over. This can be cut back to the ground and cleared away in readiness for the shrub’s true season of glory. It is completely hardy and unfussy as to conditions, but given a choice, the light flowers will shine out best in front of a dark background, such as evergreen trees, holly or yew hedging.

A scattering of small red cherry like fruits will appear by early autumn and although they are edible, they may not be entirely to our taste, or plentiful enough to do much with. In its native southern and eastern europe where its fruiting may be much more prolific, they are an ingredient of many a regional drink and delicacy. Here however, we can be content with these ‘Cornus mas’ as discreet and understated natural introductions to the dazzling spring blaze of gold that is just around the corner...

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