Cherry trees offer a beautiful display of colour from the foliage in autumn
Flowering cherry trees are great value because they have two seasons of interest. They have masses of cherry blossom in spring and a tremendous display of colour from the foliage in autumn. Both displays are large-scale and impressive.
One of the best is Sargent's cherry, native to eastern Russia and Japan. It has bright red-brown leaves in spring, a feature that is often an indicator of good autumn colour, which for this tree is a lovely show of purple flushing of the leaves followed by bright orange and red. It can start the process of changing colour quite early, even showing signs in late August as it did this year, and it is early to flower, too.
The Yoshino cherry, from Japan, is a superb, spreading tree, easily 10m across when mature, with arching branches that carry blush-white, fragrant flowers in spring and good rich yellow and orange leaves in October. The Fuji cherry, also from Japan, is smaller, more bushy in shape, and flowers with white or pale pink blossom in April. Its relatively small leaves are bronze in spring and change to orange-red in autumn.
Most of the popular flowering Japanese cherries have been selected for their autumn foliage value as well as their spring blossom. For instance, Shirotae is arching with white flowers, while Shogetsu has pink flowers fading to white with bronze young leaves. Both kinds colour to lovely shades of yellow and orange in autumn, the leaves hanging down attractively.
Some kinds of cherries, notably the autumn cherry, Prunus subhirtella Autumnalis and the less well-known Fudan-zakura, manage to have both flowers and autumn-colour leaves at the same time, and as the leaves fall, the flowers become more visible on the bare twigs.
The flowering cherries can make quite large trees, 10m tall and 10m across in the spreading kinds. These are generally not trees for small gardens, although they can be managed if some room over a footpath is possible or a neighbour is happy to share space.
In any case, there are big gardens where they can be grown and, if space is too tight, it is always possible to admire them in other people's gardens, even when just passing by.
Can I grow contorted hazel from cuttings?
Q: There's a lovely specimen of contorted hazel in a neighbour's garden and I have permission to try and grow it. What's the best way to get results? O Lenehan, Galway
A: It does not grow well from cuttings and is usually grafted, but a low branch could be layered by pinning it to the ground, or it could be air-layered in spring by slightly wounding the branch and wrapping it around with some moist compost and moss mixed, held in place within a plastic bag passed down over the shoot, and tied below and above the wound.
Leave this untouched until new roots can be seen, and then sever the new plant and pot it up for a year or two before planting out.