Inspired by Chihuly

Inspired by Chihuly

Tucked away in New York City’s Bronx borough lies an arcadia for plant lovers. The New York Botanical Garden is home to some of the worlds most prodigious horticultural delights. Founded in 1891 the gardens are a leading educational center, a National Historic Landmark and “a grand museum of plants.” The famed Enid A. Haupt Conservatory sits among the 250 acres and is one of the more recognizable pieces of architecture in New York. Specialty gardens are numerous satisfying herb, perennial and rose enthusiasts alike just to name a few. However, my favorite is the Benenson Ornamental Conifer Garden. As if all this isn’t enough, last October the gardens had even more to offer. Dale Chihuly, famed blown glass artist who has revolutionized the Studio Glass movement had an incredible body of work situated amongst the living. Chihuly’s vibrant colors and creative forms are often implemented by his teams of artisans who cultivate his visions, crafting some of the most complex sculptures imaginable. Part of the allurement of art is the interpretation that one can take away from the piece. One particular piece that Chihuly crafted was titled “Reeds.” And while these gorgeous, red reeds stood strong against the conservatory, towering at over ten feet, I could only think to myself that they also reminded me of Cornus alba (Tatarian or Red Twig Dogwood).

Introduced in the mid 1700’s and native to Siberia, Manchuria and northern Korea, Tatarian Dogwood is a plant useful in a number of applications. Benefiting from full sun to part shade the species performs exceedingly well in almost any soil type. Tolerant of some wet feet and clay soils, Tatarian types are at their best when planted in larger groupings. Remember Monosweeping! Planting a grove or border of this dogwood creates seasonal interest which can captivate ones attention at any time of year.

Without question this plants popularity is attributed to the intense red color markings of its bark throughout the winter. Blood red stems darken as the months get colder. One of the more stunning winter interest gardens you can see is the deep red stems shooting out of the ground surrounded by fresh, powdery snow. Going forward, spring’s warmer weather begins to soften the colorful red markings of the bark, gradually turning its stems from red to green. Rising temperatures also cause buds to swell unwrapping green (sometimes variegated) leaves which are egg-shaped in form. Late spring into early summer the yellowish-white flowers arrive and are almost two inches in diameter. These “flat-topped cymes” as Dirr describes, are more impressive than others may lead you to believe. The fruit (drupes) make their way in mid summer and are generally white with a touch of blue. Finally, to complete our circle, is the fall color which can often be an impressive reddish-purple.

Several interesting cultivars are readily available and noteworthy. Cornus a. ‘Elegantissima’ (Variegated Red-Twig Dogwood) has leaves which are more of a gray-green surrounded by an irregular creamy-white band on the outside edges. This cultivar finishes at about six to eight feet, a full two to four feet smaller than the species. Cornus a. ‘Gouchaulti’ (Mottled Dogwood) has a pink overtone to its mottled yellowish-white and green leaves and grows a bit wider, three to seven feet, as it matures. Finally, Cornus a. ‘Bailhalo’ (Ivory Halo Dogwood) has a sensational contrast of light green leaves with creamy white edges. More of a compact grower, this habitat plant will next spring adorn a grouping of Cedrus atlantica ‘Horstman’ at my home.

Chihuly’s upright “Reeds” undoubtedly reminded me of the erect, youthful stems of Tatarian Dogwood. His creative designs and remarkable colors have heightened my game and influenced me to work more colorful and playful architecture into my own landscape refraining from using some of the more pedestrian cement pottery and statuary you see far too often. One final thought: thinning out the oldest canes from year to year almost guarantees you the expected explosion of red color overcompensating for the doldrums of winter.