Years ago when Tom Fite opened Beverly Hills Estates in Crawford County, Leroy and I purchased a lot on top of the hill. It had numerous trees, including dogwoods. On the spur of the moment one day, we decided to bring one of the dogwood trees to Fort Smith.
We did everything wrong. It was mid-summer — not the time to transplant dogwoods. We dug up the tree, bare root, and placed it at an angle in the backseat of the car because it was too tall to fit in the trunk. Once home, we dug a hole (without amending the soil, or even an inkling of how to do it) and planted it near the entrance of the driveway. We gave it lots of love and kept it well watered. That dogwood bloomed each spring. Several years later when we moved, the tree was still alive.
Recently, sister Rosemary surprised me with Red Gnome, a red twig dogwood (red-osier) that brought back memories of that first dogwood.
While both the flowering dogwood and the red twig dogwood belong to the Cronus genus, there are major differences:
• Red twig dogwood is not a tree, it is a bush.
• It does not have the showy white or pink bracts that light up the sky for weeks in spring and early summer. Instead, it welcomes spring with fuzzy clusters of small white flowers.
• It is not used as a focal point in the landscape, but as a specimen or massed in a border. However, in the winter garden, when the flowering dogwood is bare, the red twig adds spectacular color with striking cherry red stems.
Flowering dogwood (Cormis florida) is a North American native that can grow to 30 feet and is irresistible to most gardeners, who usually manage to find a spot for at least one of its many varieties.
It’s known for its four-season appeal — lovely flowers in spring, attractive foliage in summer, brilliant red berries and bright fall foliage in fall and an interesting growth habit that provides winter interest.
When I planted Red Gamut a few weeks ago in a flowerbed that is visible from windows indoors, I followed all instructions — slightly acidic soil, sun to partial shade and compost mulch.
Once I learned many fellow gardeners were also naïve about this shrub, I did some research and discovered it is not only a winter beauty but is easy to maintain, except for pruning, which is essential to keeping the brilliant colors of the twigs.
Pruning should be done in late fall after the dark green leaves have turned burgundy and then have dropped off. There are two methods:
• Prune out about a third of the oldest branches at ground level above the first leaf node. This will keep the color bright and the shrub vigorous. The best color occurs on young stems.
• Or, renew the bush and keep it small by cutting off all branches near the soil. This method is called coppicing (a word to add to your gardener’s vocabulary). According to Wikipedia, this ancient form of wood management means “cut back to ground level periodically to stimulate growth.”
Propagation is easy, especially after pruning. “Tough Plants for Tough Places,” an interesting book that has been around for two decades, describes red twig as “probably the easiest of all shrubs to grow from winter cuttings by pushing pieces of pruned stems into the soil about 12 inches deep where you want new plants.” Other experts have success by rooting the stems in pots and then transplanting. I am trying both methods.
This new plant needs weekly watering until it is established. Then, watering can be limited to dry spells. And once a year, a layer of compost or a slow-released fertilizer is all it needs to bring you yearround beauty.
Since this is an ideal time to plant hardy shrubs, including red twig dogwoods, and trees, local garden centers are well stocked, so you will have many choices. This also is the opportune time to make selections for specific fall colors for your landscape.
And on this Thanksgiving Day, I regret to tell you there are no Fort Smith grown cranberries for our family dinner. I had high hopes a year ago when I planted two Lohzam Lo-Huggers (baccinium macrocarpon) bushes that are supposed to grow here. The bushes did survive with cascading vines, small evergreen leaves and pink blooms in early spring. But there was no fruit to harvest for Thanksgiving. I did, however, see one green berry before the birds devoured it in midsummer. For gardeners, hope springs eternal — so maybe next year!!!!
Like more than half of America, I was depressed at the outcome of the election. And with cruel words, hatred and violence spreading across our nation, the words of John F. Kennedy “…ask what you can do for your country,” seemed lost forever.
Usually, I can find comfort in the garden, especially among the passalong plants, but not this year. Perhaps, it was because the plants looked so sad after no rain in two months and unusually high November temperatures.
Being a descendant of “legal” Italian immigrants, love for and appreciation of America played an important role in growing up. My grandmother often spoke of seeing “The Lady” (the Statue of Liberty) on her arrival in New York. And, I was so proud when I turned 18 and could vote (and still consider it a privilege at every election).
With a somewhat heavy heart, Rosemary and I attended the Veterans Day ceremony at the National Cemetery. We saw the beautifully groomed final resting place for so many. We saw many proud veterans from all walks of life. We saw the Avenue of Flags. But most importantly, we saw a group of smiling Jack and Jill Day School children sing “God Bless America” three times — some with tiny hands clutched across their hearts.
Then we heard a veteran talk about his father’s service in World War II, his service in Vietnam and the loss of his son who was buried nearby.
And I realized that division couldn’t destroy a nation inhabited by children who learn patriotism and by adults who practice it daily. Heroes come in all sizes, and we were lucky enough to see some of them on Veterans Day.
Plus, after intensive hand watering, the passalongs in the garden perked up.
So today, between turkey and football among family and friends, pause and remember there is a place called hope, and it is alive and well in the hearts of most Americans.
Next week, the topic will be historic gardens on both sides of the river.
Lucy Fry of Fort Smith is a level 4 Master Gardener and writes the area Master Gardener newsletter. Her column, Gardening for the Record, runs weekly in the Times Record. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.