“Let Hercules himself do what he may, The cat will mew, and dog will have his day”, wrote Shakespeare in Hamlet around 1600, and the saying may well be applied to our garden plants for it is a regular occurrence that a year may arrive when a plant gives a display far beyond and far better than its usual performance. So it was with Cornus ‘Norman Hadden’ in our garden this year; it is quite spectacular and truly a beauty to behold.
By all accounts, Norman Hadden’s garden, “Underway” in West Porlock, Somerset, England, was quite wonderful and he grew an excellent range of plants both in the garden and in the surrounding woodland. Cornus self-seeded in the woodland and he selected a few which were especially beautiful; one was named ‘Porlock’ after the name of the village, and another ‘Norman Hadden’ to remember its originator. Cornus ‘Norman Hadden’ dates to 1958, a naturally occurring cross between Cornus capitata and Cornus kousa.
Hilliers describes Cornus ‘Norman Hadden’: “Beautiful small tree of graceful, spreading habit, developing peeling bark with age. Large creamy-white flower bracts in June turn deep pink in July and are followed by strawberry-like fruits in autumn complemented by colourful, soft-red foliage.” It is an accurate if unenthusiastic description and were the author looking at it in my garden at this moment, he might have been more generous in his praise.
It holds its foliage over winter, dropping the old leaves as the new leaves emerge but it is the flowering which provides the spectacle which captures the eye and the heart. The flowers – technically, bracts – emerge an off-white colour; develop to a clear white and later begin to age, so gracefully, with red edges to the bracts. The red continues to suffuse the white bracts until they have gradually changed from white to red and as this does not happen to all flowers at the same time there is a selection of flowers in the various stages of this annual colour transformation. This year, the display has been spectacular.
The common name for cornus is “dogwood” and dates back to the 16th century and may have been a derivation of “dagwood” as the hard wood was used for “dags” – skewers, arrows, daggers. The bark of the tree, rich in tannins, has been used as a substitute for quinine and as a treatment for pains and fevers. However, I am perfectly happy to enjoy it purely for its ornamental value and delighted that it has had an especially good display this year.
By the way, Cornus ‘Porlock’ is also an excellent plant for the garden but – they grow reasonably close to each other in the garden and I have been able to compare them over the years – ‘Norman Hadden’ is clearly the better choice. This dog is having its day!