Create memories in your garden with cherry blossom, says Marie Staunton
I went into our local bookshop the other day to see if I could find a thriller and came home instead with the 70th- anniversary edition of Enid Blyton's The Famous Five, called 'Five On A Treasure Island'. I was – and probably still am – a bit of a tomboy, so the Famous Five adventures were my great escape.
There are certain triggers that will bring memories flooding back and, for me, the sight of a cherry tree in full flower is as evocative as it gets. We used to get lost on the way to school some days and end up in Blackrock Park. In May, the cherry trees to the right of the first gate along the Rock Road were in full glorious flower.
Even now, as I pass the newly planted ones, I remember back to the innocence of our little adventures and to the fact that we could be spotted by anybody travelling on the top deck of the 45 bus as we ate our Marietta biscuits and poured over the latest Donny Osmond pictures.
Cherry trees are both wonderful and infuriating at the same time: they are in flower for such a short time and at a time of the year when the wind catches them. So, within a week or two, they're stripped of every last petal.
Having said that, I cannot resist them and we have planted quite a few varieties over the years. More recently, we went on the lookout for the one that's planted at the corner of the Nunnery Road, heading up towards St Aidan's Villas in Enniscorthy, because it is an amazing example of a cherry tree in the prime of its life.
I do have a bit of a soft spot for the creamy white-flowering varieties and would recommend to anybody trying to encourage wildlife into their garden to plant our native cherry, Prunus avium.
It is worth doing a bit of homework before you buy one, though, because the ultimate spread of the tree's canopy will dictate its suitability for your garden.
If you are tight on space, go for one that has more of a columnar shape, such as Prunus 'Amanogawa'. If you have a little patio garden, then try a Prunus incisa 'Kojo-no-mai', which is the daintiest little tree that you will ever see. It is also available as a standard.
The Japanese weeping cherry Prunus 'Kiku-shidare-zakura' is the ideal candidate for an oriental-inspired garden; it's very slow growing, with the most beautiful show of flowers in spring. Lit from below, it is an incredible sight. This particular one is available in the Boyne Garden Centre in Slane, Co Meath, according to the latest edition of the RHS 'Plant Finder'.
I have seen ornamental trees butchered beyond recognition. All they really need is a little thought at planting time and a place in full sun, where they might reach their full potential. Unless a branch is badly placed or has broken due to wind, then don't prune any ornamental cherry if you can help it.
If you have no choice, wait until all the leaves are out before you wield a pruning saw. Otherwise, you run a big risk of opening up the tree to infection. There is a time and place for everything and cherries are very unforgiving if you prune at the wrong time.
For those of you who like both the fruit and the flowers, you can't go too far wrong with one called Prunus avium 'Stella'. If you are planning to grow a fruiting cherry in your garden, then make sure it is on a dwarfing rootstock. Gisela 5 was developed so that the home gardener with a modest-sized garden could enjoy these beautiful fruits.
Cherry trees are normally the largest of the fruiting trees and wouldn't really be suitable for every garden, hence the development of this dwarfing rootstock, making these trees both compact and really good croppers.
To make sure you get the best out of your tree, plant it in full sun and stake it properly, because the dwarf rootstock isn't capable of supporting the weight of the canopy unaided. Good, deep, free-draining soil with a nice bit of organic matter will see it right. You will need to keep an area, of about one-metre diameter, around the tree free of weeds and grass to avoid any unnecessary competition.
The self-fertile Prunus avium 'Stella' doesn't require another cherry tree in your garden for pollination, but if there happened to be one in your neighbour's garden, you might notice a bigger yield in fruit.