THE spring equinox has passed. The days lengthen, and the sun's
This triggers spring blossom. "Blossom" is such a loaded word:
it says so much more than "flower". It speaks of abundance. It
describes a culmination in itself, but also hints at further gifts
in the future. Blossoming is a "coming out", a positive phase, and
a big step in the right direction. It also has an innocence and
brevity about it.
The Church waits to celebrate Easter. The blossom party is under
way in the garden, thanks to the flowering cherries - members of
the genus Prunus. Most Prunus are just getting
into their spring stride now. One coming to the end of its season
is the Japanese Apricot, Prunus mume "Ben-shidori". I fell
in love with it 20 years ago in the Cambridge Botanical Gardens. I
was drawn towards it by the rich madder-pink blossom, and then
completely won over, close up, by their almond scent.
I still think it a delightful tree for the smaller garden, as is
Prunus "Pandora" with shell-pink blooms, described by Vita
Sackville-West as a "puff of cloud, a tuft of tulle"; and
Prunus "Accolade", which has slightly darker flowers. The
latter two have the added benefit of good orange autumn-leaf
Prunus padus, the bird cherry, is native to northern
Europe, including Britain. The cultivar "Colorata", discovered in
Sweden, has bronze-red young leaves in spring, which act as a
lovely foil for the racemes of pale-pink blooms with creamy green
centres. This might suit those of you who call cherry trees blousy.
It is somehow more refined, and can easily be kept to shrub-like
proportions if needed. The blossom is followed by small, glossy
black fruits - bitter to our taste, but loved by the birds.
If pink blossom is not your thing, then how about
Prunus "Ukon", which has pale-lemon flowers? Young leaves
have a coppery tone, and give a fiery autumn display. For a
bridal-white display, Prunus "Tai-haku" has huge single
white flowers that contrast beautifully with the bronzy new
foliage. A tree in bloom takes on a magical quality at twilight, or
by a full moon.
Maybe you cannot see the point of a cherry tree that does not
bear edible cherries. If so, I would recommend the Morello cherry,
Prunus cerasus. So-called "sour" cherries are easier to
grow than "sweet" cherries, and every bit as palatable. Their
decline in popularity is probably because they have a short season
and shelf-life, making them awkward for supermarket merchandising.
You have to wait until the fruit has taken on an inky darkness
before eating them straight from the tree, but their high acidity
gives them a superb flavour, when they are still red, for use in
pies, preserves, and puddings.
If you decide to plant a cherry tree this spring, you need to
commit to regular watering over the coming summer. Perhaps best to
peruse the catalogues - and better still to visit an arboretum, or
botanic garden, make a note of your favourite, and order in the