29 May

Tree of the Month: The Wedding Cake Tree

This month we take a look at the Wedding Cake Tree! With its cream-coloured flowers and tiered structure, this very striking tree species certainly catches the eye at any time of year…

If you’re after a purely elegant tree that will act as a statement piece in your garden then, provided your garden is big enough, look no further than the spectacular Cornus Contraversa Variegata. Also known as The Wedding Cake Tree, this plant will often take pride of place on a lawn belonging to a keen gardener, and without a doubt, there’s certainly something rather special about them. They are notorious for being very scarce and slow growing, but in the right conditions, they are a beautiful, ornamental addition to any garden. Aptly named for their layers of branches that reduce in size from the bottom upwards, just like a tiered cake, their bushy white flowers look wonderfully lacy and frosted.

A tree for all seasons

Originating from China, the Himalayas, and Japan, the Cornus Controversa Variegata (also known as the Japanese Snowball Bush) is a dainty-looking deciduous shrub with very distinct levels or ‘tiers’ of branches that can reach approx. five or six metres high. They were first introduced in about 1880 by Veitch’s Nursery of Exeter.

They have green, creamy-margined leaves and red young stems. In May and June, they produce clusters of small, white, flat flowers that bring to mind the decorative and lacy frosting on a wedding cake.

These will be followed by a peppering of blue-black berries that provide food for wild birds. Typically, Wedding Cake Trees spread out into a broad, wide tree, and they turn into lovely pink and red shades during the autumn. With so many different looks throughout the year, the tree is a popular choice with those who are looking to bring seasonal interest into their gardens.

Growing a Wedding Cake Tree

Wedding Cake Trees are known for being notoriously difficult to propagate and slow to grow when young, making them a premium species to have in a garden, but they establish well when planted as a slightly older specimen. They may well be the ultimate ‘ugly duckling’ tree because they usually need a bit of time before they grow into their full beauty.

Other species in the dogwood family are easier and less demanding, so it’s worth exploring other options such as Winter Beauty and the European dogwood if you’re more of a beginner. They can be planted at any time of the year, but they like full sun and shelter from cold winds that can damage their leaves. They prefer rich, lime-free and well-drained soil that won’t dry out in the summer. Water well and regularly for the first few months after planting, and during warm periods, but avoid over-watering, as they don’t like overly wet soil. In order to avoid interference, it’s best to avoid pruning the tree so it can naturally develop its iconic tiered shape unless you’re specifically removing dead or diseased branches.

They are commonly planted in the middle of lawns or open spaces because the flat level ground perfectly accentuates the tiered branches. Their balanced proportions make them well suited to hold their own just as they are, however they can also work well if positioned on the edge of a mixed border to achieve the same effect.

The perfect gift to cherish

Of course, these romantically-named trees make an excellent gift for weddings and special anniversaries. As previously mentioned, it’s advisable to select a more mature specimen for your loved ones to plant, rather than a one or two-year-old sapling. Surely there are few things more romantic than planting a tree that will grow and strengthen over time, and can still be enjoyed for years to come by future generations.

In 2011, the Duchess of Cornwall planted a Wedding Cake Tree sapling at St Mary’s Church in Tetbury a week before the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding to mark the occasion. It was hoped that it would remind everyone in the town of the special day. The tree was donated by the Tetbury Evening Women’s Institute, of which the Duchess is a member.