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Cornus for north facing border?

Our garden is south facing so the fence at the bottom is north facing and we’d like to hide it a bit. One idea is to use dogwood that will give us some colourful winter stems (pref red/purple) and ideally some nice foliage and/or flowers. I understand that the best colours need sun so are there any varieties that anyone could recommend? Or is there something else we could plant instead? We have clay soil and are in Devon so not too cold!


  • PlantmindedPlantminded Posts: 3,494
    edited December 2022
    The shrub varieties of Cornus which are most commonly grown for their winter stem colour need full sun to encourage bright stems, otherwise the colour can be poor.  I've previously grown C. alba sibirica  (red stems) and C. sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ (red/orange stems) in a shady site and they didn't grow well or colour up well.  Apart from their winter stem colour, I don't find the plants in leaf during the growing season particularly attractive.  Another possible option is the strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo, which is evergreen, with attractive bark, delicate white flowers in November, followed by bright red fruit which blackbirds enjoy!  Although it prefers full sun, I have one growing in a shady site and it has fared well.  It can be easily maintained at fence height or allowed to grow higher: Arbutus unedo | Evergreen Strawberry Trees (  Or, if you like spiky shapes, Phormiums will happily grow in shade, provided your clay soil is not too heavy, and are available in a variety of colour combinations.  They can also produce striking flower stems once well established.  I'd avoid the plain green variety which can get out of control and untidy quickly.
    Wirral. Sandy, free draining soil.

  • RBMancRBManc Posts: 58
    I have a Cornus Alba Kesselringii in a North facing border and it is nice in a bit of a gothic way... It has dark reddish-purple stem, quite dark leaves and gets little white berries :) it's fine in my border but a bit slower growing than it probably would have been had it had a bit more sun.
  • LoxleyLoxley Posts: 5,690
    I think Cornus is a good shout, perhaps go for a variegated form if year round interest is a concern. However to get the best out of the stems you will need to coppice it, and therefore the fence will sometimes be made visible. There are other plants you could consider, e.g. Hamamelis, or Chimonanthus (winter flowers) or Stachyurus (gorgeous catkins) depending on soil suitability. There are some lovely winter flowering Viburnums too. 
    "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour". 
  • NollieNollie Posts: 7,512
    edited December 2022
    Cornus Sanguineum does grow wild around me in shady verges and seems to still develop a good burgundy colour. It does get sheared to the ground annually when the verges get cleared but soon pops up again. However I don’t think it’s the best choice for hiding a north fence - its a teensy bit dull apart from in the areas where the sun lights it up from behind.

    I have a lovely variegated pittosporum with apple-green leaves and creamy edges and that really brightens up a shady corner without being too garishly two-tone. Also plenty of berberis can brighten up shade - I have a column type one called orange rocket and although it’s mostly a soft lime green on the shady side, you should get some of the orange colouring at the top and front.

    How much depth of planting space do you have there or can create? That will influence suitable choices. Oh and soil type and moisture retention will too, a dry, sandy acidic soil is very different to a heavy wet, alkaline clay, for example!
    Mountainous Northern Catalunya, Spain. Hot summers, cold winters.
  • punkdocpunkdoc Posts: 14,966
    I would agree with @Loxley, that the variegated Cornus is a handsome plant, grows well in shade [ and brightens it up ], and although the stems are not bright, they are coloured.
    How can you lie there and think of England
    When you don't even know who's in the team

    S.Yorkshire/Derbyshire border
  • Thanks for all the comments. It should get some sun in the north facing border in morning/afternoon/midsummer. The border space is only about 1/2 metre deep and a few metres wide. It’s by a patio bit so can’t make deeper. Hence not great for big bushes (though we have lots elsewhere for wildlife!) At the moment there’s a rambling rose there which we’ve trained, however it only flowers briefly and provides little coverage otherwise. It also seems to suffer badly from black spot and rust. I had wondered about something climbing but would want evergreen and would give good coverage without getting out of control! Hence thought about something that would grow fence height. My husband likes dogwood hence the idea!
  • PlantmindedPlantminded Posts: 3,494
    If your border gets some sun, a dogwood may be suitable.  Try the other varieties suggested above, your soil may suit them better than mine which is sandy and free draining which could explain why they didn’t fare well. You could also consider painting your fence to contrast with the stem colour.
    Wirral. Sandy, free draining soil.

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