Cherry blossom lifts the spirits
A FEW years ago I had a customer who insisted that she didn't want any flowering cherries in her garden because they only lasted for a couple of weeks. I've always felt that was like saying, I won't go on holiday because it's only for two weeks. But what a glorious two weeks.
If any plant could sing it would be a flowering cherry. Not a mumbled folk ballad but rather a rousing operatic chorus. There are few other plants that can lift the spirit like a cherry in full bloom, the Japanese understand this and even have festivals to celebrate them. From the moment they show bud colour, through to the explosion of full flowering, right up until they drop their petals like confetti, they are otherworldly.
Some are fragrant and many have great autumn colour, they range from medium sized shrubs to quite considerable sized trees and they grow in most soil conditions that are not overly wet. They also enjoy open sunny positions. Every garden should have one and there is one for every garden.
The genus Prunus includes not only cherries but also almonds [P. dulcis], apricots [P. armeniaca] peaches [P. persica], the Japanese cherries, which are generally hybridised, and then there are the natives ,
P. padus [ Bird cherry], P. spinosa [Blackthorn] and P. avium [ Wild cherry]. Also ,and maybe surprisingly, the naturalised common laurel [P. laurocerasus ] or Cherry laurel is also a Prunus, though not grouped with the flowering types. Whole books are written on the subject of flowering cherries so I am only outlining the merits of some of the most beautiful flowering trees in the world.
The earliest cherry to flower is P. subhirtella ‘Autumnalis' with small white flowers intermittently from November to March, there is also a pink version ‘Rosea'. Both make a tree of around 6 metres and are a must for any large garden where it is rare to find one without at least some flowers over the winter months.
P. ‘Accolade' is a favourite of mine as it is the earliest to flower in the great profusion that we associate with cherries. It makes a spreading tree [ 7m x 7m] and is absolutely wreathed in semi double pink flow- ers in March. Thankfully it seems to be a popular choice for many front gardens so we all get to enjoy them, courtesy of someone else.
For a small garden look out for P. incisa ‘Kojo-nomai [Fuji cherry] which makes a stunning shrub of about 2 metres high and wide and is covered in pink flower in March. It has a curious zig zag of branches which makes it popular as a bonsai . P. incisa ‘Midori' is a white variety with similar attributes.
Two other good small cherries that have even made an appearance in the supermarkets of late are P. tenella 'Firehill' [Dwarf Russian almond] single pink and P. triloba [Flowering almond] double pink. Both can be hard pruned after flowering to maintain a size of 1 -1.2 metres and are worthy of growing.
For a tight space consider P. ‘Amanogawa' a small upright Japanese cherry with fragrant semi double soft pink flowers in April and with good autumn colour. It makes no more than 1 metre across. Other Japanese cherries of note ,of which there are, and I stress, many, include P. ‘Shirofugen' [8m x 8m] one of the last to flower in May and, although not enough to convince my customer, has long lasting white, fading to pink flowers.
If you really want to make an impact the mighty P. 'Tai Haku' [Great White Cherry'] soars to 12 metres and has very large single white flowers. But perhaps the most beautiful of all is P. ‘Shogetsu' a wide spreading tree 6m x 6m with double white flowers , pink tinged in bud which hang on long stalks along the branches.
There are many weeping varieties which act as
“From the moment of explosion of full flowering, right up until they drop their petals like confetti, they are otherworldly”
perfect form to show off the flowers at their best and all are spectacular. P. x yedoensis ‘Ivensii' [ Yoshino cherry] 4m x 4m is a fine example, a small tree with tortuous branches that look snow covered in April. Possible even more showy is P. ‘Kiku-shidare-sakura' 4m x 3m a wide spreading tree with double pink flowers.
With all this beauty there has to be a beast and flowering cherries are no exception. Bacterial canker is a problem, symptoms include, sticky gum seeping from cracks in the bark and/or multi holed leaves. It can be treated with Bordeaux mixture but this is not always practical on large trees.
Silver leaf is a fungal disease that enters through damaged wood. There is no chemical control so remove infected branches immediately and burn. Spores are around in the autumn and winter so if you have to prune do so in summer. As a general rule, with Prunus, don't prune us.
The branches of the Yoshino flowering cherry tree look snow covered in April
Every garden should have a cherry tree and there is one for every garden
The earliest cherry to flower is P. subhirtella ‘Autumnalis'