Coloured Stems and Verticals

Now that the summer flowers are coming to an end at last and the beautiful autumn tints have finally blown away, there is still colour to be had in the garden, along with all the evergreens. Coloured stems and verticals of tree trunks provide winter colour for the next four months and brighten up any gloomy winter’s day.

Jaquemontii & Cornus

Jaquemontii & Cornus

These Cornus alba sibirica Westonbirt and Betula Jaquemontii form the backdrop to the bee and butterfly border during the summer. Once the leaves have fallen in autumn (purple on the Cornus and beautiful yellow on the birch) they become the star performers of the border until all the spring bulbs take over.

Birch & Cornus

We have planted a few different varieties of Birch in this border, but only Jaquemontii have developed their wonderful shining white bark.


Three Betula ermanii have been planted further up the border, eventually they will turn a rich creamy colour with a hint of pink, gardening certainly teaches you patience doesn’t it!

B. papyrifera

Half way up the border I have put Betula papyrifera or the Paper bark birch. When we stayed with a friend for a holiday in the Laurentian Mountains near Montreal, her house was surrounded by these trees and I thought they were so stunning, just had to have one when I got home! The silver bark hasn’t developed yet, but I’m waiting patiently, hope it won’t take many more years.


Among the birches are lots of Cornus alba sibirica bushes which form a green hedge for the spring and summer, there are white flowers in the spring and then super purple autumn tints before the leaves fall to reveal these wonderful red stems. The whole plant gets coppiced at the end of March because the best colour forms on young wood. After coppicing, they get rewarded with a handful of fertiliser to encourage them to produce lots more stems, ready for next time they take pride of place.


This is the bark of the seedling Silver Birch near the back door, a lot more grey on this one, lots of fissures where tiny insects can hide, the birds are always working over this tree, they obviously find a lot to eat. Lovely when we see groups of goldfinches and long tailed tits hanging on here, after the oak, the birch is the best tree as a habitat for wildlife in the UK.


I think I bought Prunus serrula just for me ! Look at that bark, can’t resist giving it a polish each time I go down to the greenhouse. The bark is just like polished mahogany, so many people have given me bits of mahogany to carve and when finished and polished, they look just like this!

All these coloured stems and verticals keep me going over the winter, until the snowdrops and hellebores are on parade once more, not long to wait now!

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18 Responses to Coloured Stems and Verticals

  1. Yum-yum – what beautiful bark on the Prunus. Silver birch is one of my favourite trees and periodically I walk around the garden and wonder where I could put a group of three or a multi-stemmed Betula ‘Jacquemontii’

    Cornus just lights up the garden at this time of year doesn’t it!
    I have enjoyed your coloured stems and verticals

    • Pauline says:

      Like you, Karen, I love silver birch. Have only found one problem and that is that it is almost impossible to plant round it once it is established due to their spreading network of roots very near the surface. All planting must be done as you plant the tree. Found this out when I just planted a single one near to the field next door years ago, when we came to plant all the ones in the front border, I made sure all the bulbs etc. went in at the same time, and they have never been a problem.

  2. Alberto says:

    I enjoyed so much you dogwoods in a previous post that I’ve decided to have a group of them in my garden too. I’m not sure I could find a nice variety like yours but I’ll have a look around. I think my group will be planted close to the future pond (still digging for it…). Is that sisyrinchium that you planted under the cornus? It is very common in UK, isn’t it? I like the range of greens it creates with its pointing foliage and it’s perfect where you planted it. Mine dies back in winter but, due to this still warm season, it hasn’t yet.
    I’ve done a little research on betula species and there are several I had never heard of. B. ermanii is really charming, shame you have to be patient with trees, which is a virtue I haven’t been given.

    Have your garden ever been pictured in any magazine or book yet?

    • Pauline says:

      I think your Cornus will like being by your pond, and with a reflection, you will have twice as many stems to look at ! The red stemmed variety that we have is C alba sibirica Westonbirt, but there are Cornus sanguinea Winter Beauty which has orange / red stems (don’t cut this one hard back in the spring, just a light trim) or C. sericea Flaviramea which has yellow stems.
      Sisyrinchium seeds itself all over this garden, always giving it away, ours doesn’t die back in the winter, but some get cut back in the spring if they look too much of a mess, they are a nice contrast to the Cornus and the flowers are lovely aren’t they for any passing bee!
      No, Alberto, our garden hasn’t appeared in any magazines or books but it has been in a TV programme called Open Gardens, all about preparing your garden to open it to the public, raising money for charity.

  3. wellywoman says:

    OOhhh such lovely photos. I love the Cornus and Birch combination and Prunus serrula is one of my favourite trees. At Wisley they have big clumps of different coloured Cornus planted around a large pond and the reflections in winter are beautiful.

    • Pauline says:

      Yes, Wellywoman, I too have admired the ones at Wisley, oh, to have that much room so that you can get twice the effect with reflections !!

  4. catmint says:

    lovely and clever planning / planting. I am still trying to figure out how to maintain a structure that will outlast the flowers. This post is food for thought. Silver birches used to be very popular here but now it’s realized they need too much water.

    • Pauline says:

      Thank you Catmint, this is certainly a year round border, I wanted something interesting to look at each time I go up and down the drive, it seems to have worked. We don’t have your problem of not enough water for the silver birches, if anything we have too much, provided free from above!

  5. lovely colours, I cut back my dogwoods for the first time this spring and have been surprised by how much they have grown, I love silver birch too but was advised that downey birch would be better suited to my acidic soil, I love them and the ones that have turned silver on the bark have the beautiful habit of peeling, I tried cuttings of dogwood near them a year after they were planted but they didn’t take I pushed some more in last spring when I pruned the dogwoods they have taken this time but it will be a few years before I see the contrasts, I like the Sisyrinchium so just did a search but it prefers alkaline soil oh well, I will enjoy seeing your lovely combination, Frances

    • Pauline says:

      Do try Sisyrinchium Frances, my soil is the acid side of neutral, I have blue Hydrangeas, Rhododendrons and Meconopsis and the Sisyrinchium grow alongside ! I have done lots of hardwood cuttings of Cornus quite sucessfully and sometimes when branches lean over and touch the ground, they root, so when cutting back time is with us again, there are some new plants already rooted ready to be moved to a new home.

  6. thanks Pauline I will, I went from your blog to another that found me searching for the plant so that’s 2 more to add to my list, I have grown dogwood cuttings in other areas I think at the time there was still too much grass around them this time I have cleared the grass from where they are and managed to keep it weed free, I was wondering about the sisyrinchium in the areas I have planted roses as I have added some lime there, Frances

    • Pauline says:

      So glad you are going to give the Sisyrinchium a try Frances, if they are happy with your soil they will soon seed around. I put the dead heads in the compost here and thats how they pop up everywhere the compost is used. Do let me know how you eventually get on won’t you. Cheers P.

  7. Christina says:

    I love Cornus but sadly they need more water than I’m prepared to give them so I don’t have their wonderful coloured stems to enjoy in my garden so I especially enjoyed sharing yours, thank you. Christina

    • Pauline says:

      Water is something we have in abundance here Christina ! I never water the garden as we are on a water meter and have to pay for every drop we use, any watering is done from our copious water butts and only when absolutely necessary, but then, I can’t grow your lovely Meditteranean plants, we can’t have everything can we!

  8. We also love the silver birch/cornus combination. I find it hard to believe that some f the hellebores are out already!

    • Pauline says:

      We are still waiting for our first frost, instead we have had loads of rain and everything is very soggy, but obvously the hellebores are enjoying it. The cornus really shine out and make the front drive glow on a dull gloomy day.

  9. Tim says:

    Pauline, I absolutely love the photos of your birches. It gives me some great ideas for my own garden. I am surprised how grand your Prunus serrula looks. It is very different as I had only ever contemplated the silver variety. How many do you have on your property?

    • Pauline says:

      Glad you like the Prunus serrula Tim, it is a favourite of mine, I just have one, no room for any more. The birches are a different matter, quite a few of those in different places. One is a seedling which arrived all by itself, one is the paperbark birch which we saw when staying in Canada, 3 are Betula ermanii and 4 are Betula jaqumontii, no room for any more of these either!

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