Flowering Cherry Season
By Lorraine Spooner
Spring is the season for the wonderful range of blossom that appears in profusion on these beautiful trees. Often fleeting, we should take example from the Japanese, whose traditional custom of enjoying the transient beauty of their national flower is called Hanami, or ‘flower viewing’. Fortunately, the trees flower at different times, some as early as March, others into May, but usually each species lasts for just two weeks, before a breeze causes a shower of petals to form a carpet below the canopy, extending our enjoyment of this wonder of nature for a little longer. Cherry blossom is also associated with clouds due to their fluffy, cloudlike appearance when in full bloom and some cultivars, such as ‘Fragrant Cloud’, reflect this relationship.
The trees are sought after and grown globally, their popularity in part due to one man, Collingwood ‘Cherry’ Ingram, as he became known, who was an authority on Japanese flowering cherries and played a major role in re-introducing some varieties back to Japan, such as ‘Tai Haku’, after it had become extinct in its native country (see below). He achieved this by transporting the graft inside a potato on the trans-Siberian railway. He also introduced more than 50 cultivars into Britain from Japan and successfully bred many, such as ‘Kursar’ in the garden of his Kent home.
I have detailed below a small selection which encompasses a wide range of flower form, colour and differing growth habits to suit many garden styles.
Prunus cerasifera ‘Crimson Pointe’
This relatively new introduction of the purple leaved cherry-plum has an upright habit, making it an excellent choice for the smaller garden where space may be limited. The young foliage emerges bronze against which the pink tinged white flowers in spring provide a stunning contrast. Later in the season, the foliage takes on tonal variants of bronze-deep purple.
Prunus x persicoides ‘Spring Glow’
Another purple leaved offering but with large vivid pink flowers, often one of the first to come to the party, opening early in March, but persisting while others in the genus play catch up. The unusual size of the flower harks back to its peach/almond parentage. With a slightly more spreading habit than Crimson Pointe, this tree would also make a choice specimen for the smaller plot.
Prunus subhirtella ‘Fukubana’
One of the winter flowering ornamental cherries, whose semi-double rose pink flowers emerge before the foliage, lightening up the dark winter months when there is little colour in the garden. The leaves are bronze when young, turning dark green and taking on buttery hues in the autumn. A tree with a neat rounded spreading canopy and a choice smaller alternative to Prunus subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’.
With large semi-double pure pink flowers from darker pink buds, these fade in colour as they mature giving a two-tone effect. Boasting beautiful mahogany coloured bark with horizontal lenticel markings, striking autumnal hues of yellow and orange, this is a good choice for a focal point where its attributes can be best appreciated.
Our native wild cherry will be familiar throughout Britain’s hedgerows with its nodding clusters of white flowers in late spring, followed in some years by small, shiny red cherries. The species name refers to our feathered friends playing an important role in the tree’s propagation by widely dispersing the cherry seeds. The chestnut coloured bark becomes silvery with age and the leaves turn a rich orange-red in autumn. Growing to more than 12 metres in full maturity, this tree would be suitable for the larger garden, or it can be valuable as part of a native hedge mix to encourage all manner of wildlife. Prunus avium ‘Plena’ is the spectacular double flowered form, whose growth habit is similar though slightly smaller in maturity.
Prunus ‘Shizuka’ or ‘Fragrant Cloud’
A vigorous strong growing tree with a habit which is initially ascending, then spreading with age, in common with many Japanese ornamental cherries. Producing a profusion of large white, semi-double flowers in late spring, which age to pale pink, the blossom is scented, which is an unusual attribute in this genus. Taking on mellow tones of orange in the autumn, this is an excellent choice if you are seeking a lone specimen.
Prunus ‘Hally Jolivette’
A fast growing example with dark pink buds unfolding to palest pink, scented semi-double flowers, which unusually open over a long period, extending the display. The blossom is complemented by the dark green leaves, which turn orange-red in autumn. With a rounded canopy almost matching the five metre height of this tree in maturity, it will appreciate the space to grow unencumbered by other neighbouring trees.
Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-Mai’
The Fuji cherry is a delightful little plant with many attributes to recommend cultivation – being of a shrubby form and growing to just 1.25 metres, it is the perfect specimen for pot cultivation. The dense branches have an unusual ‘zig-zag’ growth habit; the delicate blush flowers from dark pink buds, emerge in early March and hang in miniature clusters; once these wane, the serrated (incised) foliage takes over, extending the season from bronze in spring, to green, then vivid coppery orange in autumn. With bare twisted stems providing winter structure, show these off by adorning them in fairy lights at Christmas. One of my absolute multi seasonal favourites!
This unusual tree with a very narrow columnar habit makes it useful in tight spaces. However, it is the pink-white flowers hanging in clusters from long stems that make it stand out from the crowd – the anthers protrude well beyond the petals, which has earned it the common name of the Tassel Cherry. Smothered in blossom, it is also an arresting sight when the petals fall, leaving the anthers in situ resembling mini white tassels.
One of the best for autumn foliage colours of crimson and gold, this tree is also one of the first to announce its arrival in early spring, with masses of single deep pink flowers, which provide nectar for any emerging bees brave enough to leave their cosy nests. This is the perfect small garden tree for urban spaces, with good pollution tolerance and a neat compact habit of 4 x 3 metres.
Introduced in 1900, ‘Kanzan’ is one of the most widely planted of all the flowering cherries, suitable for avenue planting or as a single specimen. Producing pink-purple double flowers with a crimped edge, simultaneously with the young bronze foliage from March to April, this medium sized tree would suit most garden situations, attaining 6 x 4 metres in maturity. In typical Japanese cherry style, the tree’s growth habit is initially vase shaped and upright before becoming more spreading over time. With burnt orange coloured foliage extending the season in autumn, if you have space for just one tree, then this is highly recommended.
Prunus ‘Tai Haku’
This ancient tree, known as the Great White cherry, will be instantly recognisable by its flat topped spreading crown, which can grow wider than the tree’s height. ‘Tai-Haku’ translates as ‘big white’, and its flowers are indeed twice the size of other flowering cherries being 5cms in width, borne in multiple clusters in April. Best grown as a single specimen in a lawn, it can also be used to create an avenue where the canopies will eventually grow together, creating a magical place to take a stroll. After becoming extinct in Japan, we owe our gratitude to Collingwood Ingram for re-introducing the tree back to Japan from a single specimen spotted in a garden in Sussex, which has allowed this beautiful tree to live on for our enjoyment.