From the Garden: Of dogwoods and hellebore

Cornelian cherry

Cornelian cherry

The Cornelian Cherry (Cornus, mas) has come to bloom in the last week which is extraordinarily late, for its normal bloom time commences in late January.

It is an English cousin to the American Dogwood (Cornus florida) and it is from this plant that our native dogwood gets its name.  The common name of dogwood does not seem to refer to the canine at all but is more likely rooted in the Celtic word dag or dagge which became dagger in common usage.  It alludes to the very hard, fine grained wood that was used for fashioning stakes used by the butcher for hanging meat.  William Turner first uses the term dog in reference to this tree in The Name of Herbs (1548): “the butchers make prickles of it, some cal it Gadrise or dog tree.”

It is likely that the dog in dogwood is simply a corruption of dag.  The first English explorers recognized the American plant as a close cousin to the Cornelian Cherry and simply borrowed the name. Our dogwood, like its European counterpart, has a very hard, close grained wood that has been long employed in many types of tools and measuring devices.

The Green Hellebore (Helleborus viridis) has produced another assemblage of flowers after the first was blasted by the unusual cold.  This European native of cool shady places has long been used as a medicinal plant for both humans and livestock.  Its ancient name was “Setterwort” for its use with cattle as a general preventative.  A piece of the root was placed in an incision made in the dew-lap, or loose skin at the cattle’s throat.  It would act, according to John Gerard in 1597, to “draweth unto it all the venomous matter, and voided it forth at the wound.”  For human ailments one must be cautious as it is a strongly poisonous plant.

The Laurustinus (Viburnum tinus) blooms were also blasted by the extraordinary cold but they have all turned brown and withered so that it appears we will see no bloom on them this year.

The cabbages and cauliflower seedlings in the hotbed have all been lifted and reset at four inches everyway so that they might grow on until transplanted to the garden in early April. The manure is now being brought in to start the second hotbed for the warm season crops such as pepper, tomato, sweet potato, melon and cucumber.  The snow again yesterday will hopefully bring up the peas once it melts.



  1. Christine Hansley says

    Good day Wesley,
    Sorry to hear your weather isn’t any better than what we are experiencing in the Chicago area. Have winters been this brutal in the CW area in the resent past? Or is this an anomaly?
    I know in early Dec. of 1982 they had a 10 inch snow fall. I was in D.C. and decided the night before to drive down to CW for the day. I did not look out the window of my room or listen to the weather that morning. As I walked through the lobby of the hotel at 6 in the morning the desk crew started to giggle among themselves. When I got outside I knew why. As a good Mid-western girl, I turned around went back in and asked for a broom to clear my car off. I guessed wrong. Someone got their car cleaned off for free. The second car I cleaned was my rental. It took a little over 4 hours to get to CW that morning. I almost had the place to myself. The drive back to D.C. went more quickly, about two and a half hours.

    Starting to think about my container vegetable garden. I might be able to start something out there by mid April if I’m lucky. There’s at least 6 or 7 inches of snow on my containers.

    Your humble student,

    • Wesley Greene says

      Dearest Christine,
      The year started with the coldest January we have seen in over 30 years, February was a little colder than normal but not abnormally so. March has gotten off to a slow, soggy start but the sun rises a little higher in the sky every day and it will not be long before we are enveloped in the luxury of spring. You must come south for an early preview; tulips are at their best in mid-April.
      Yours, Wesley Greene

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