Monday 16 July 2018

Merry cherry! Diarmuid Gavin's top ten cherry trees

Get drunk on the beauty of this spring-flowering tree and its boughs of blossoms

Spring flowering tree: Cherry Blossom trees.
Spring flowering tree: Cherry Blossom trees.
Cheales Weeping Cherry blossoms

Diarmuid Gavin

How wonderful has it been to enjoy the spring sunshine? Yes, it's been chilly but garden growth has started responding to the lengthening daylight hours and the spring symphony of colour is in full flow.

Many of the plants which are awakening from winter slumbers are firm favourites which we delight in seeing afresh each year.

One of my strongest childhood memories is of young primary school boys and girls making their First Holy Communion, standing piously as they had their photographs taken under vast clouds of pastel coloured petals.

These trees were as ritually grown along Irish suburban roads as they have been for centuries in Japanese temple gardens. In our grey suburbs their annual flower show was delightfully incongruous with the dirty pebble-dash building and tarmacadam road surroundings. But flowering cherries have the ability to change any landscape.

In Japan, the start of the flowering cherry season is a cause of national rejoicing. Much as we are obsessed by our weather forecasts, in parts of the orient their forecasts at this time of the year alerts to the optimum period to view the flowering trees - they actually have nightly flowering forecasts on TV!

And that's because, in Japan, the floral displays are revered as representational of the fleeting nature of beauty and the tragedy and sadness of its inevitable passing.

Blossoming takes place from mid-March right through to the start of May. And, when the blooms are in their prime, the centuries-old practice of Hanami - picnicking under the blooms - occurs. It often gets messy... emotions are relaxed by the beauty of nature and with the addition of alcohol, mayhem often ensues. As with a regular Saturday night in Dublin's Copper Face Jacks, songs are sung, romances begun, tears are shed - in fact, it is often a veritable riot... in the garden!

We, however, tend to be more reserved and regard the cherry simply as beautiful trees which offer a glorious display, most often in spring. As a species, they're manageable in size, and perfect if you wish for a dramatic pink splash early in the year. So, my top 10 ornamental cherries are:

1 Yoshino cherry (Prunus Yedoensis)

The Yoshino cherry brings me back to my student days in the Botanic Gardens in Dublin, where a magnificent specimen of this tree stands gracefully behind the herbaceous border with almond-scented blush white flowers - magical.

2 The Fuji cherry (Prunus Incisa)

If you have a small garden or terrace and are keen to cultivate a flowering cherry, try one of the Fuji varieties. With some care, they can be grown even in a pot. The best known of these is Kojo-no-mai which is covered in white blossom in spring and has good autumnal leaf colour. Perfect for a miniature Japanese garden, maybe paired with some Japanese maples such as Acer palmatum dissectum.

3 Tibetan cherry (Prunus Serrula)

Cherries can be notable for their bark as well as their blossom. This has beautiful gleaming bark, like polished mahogany.

4 Kanzan cherry (Prunus Kanzan)

The best known of the pinks, it has been over-planted, but is still, to my mind, one of the most beautiful. It's easy to take it for granted but Kanzan's cerise beauty is not to be underestimated.

5 Shogetsu cherry (Prunus Shogetsu)

White blossoms emanate from pink buds. Petite enough for the small garden, this is one of the best cherries.

6 The Great White cherry (Prunus Tai Haku)

A superb tree for the larger garden with large white dazzling blooms, offset against coppery-red juvenile leaves.

7 Cheal's weeping cherry (Prunus kiku-shidare-zakura)

If you like the very pink ones, one of the bestsellers is this weeping tree, covered in deep pink pompoms (inset).

8 The Mount Fuji cherry (Prunus shirotae)

A beautiful cherry with a spreading habit the Mount Fuji cherry puts on a eye-catching show when it is smothered in very large, fragrant snow-white flowers.

9 Double Gean cherry (Prunus avium plena)

This is a cultivar of our native wild cherry with masses of double white flowers and rich red leaf colour in autumn.

10 Ukon cherry (Prunus ukon)

A curiosity in the cherry world with its blooms taking on a pale yellow and pale green tints - subtle and elegant.

Cultivation notes

Cherries are not the longest-lived trees - life expectancy is around 60 to 80 years - but they are relatively trouble free. Ideally, plant in an open, sunny position on well-drained soil. They rarely require pruning but if it is necessary, prune after flowering to avoid infection by silver leaf fungal disease. Shallow roots can cause problems near pathways or lawns, so plant accordingly.

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