FLOWERING cherries are elegance personified and once they fill the garden with their beautiful blooms you know that spring has finally sprung.
Prunus is the family name – there are almost 500 species – and Prunus Ukon is the tree that’s been with us for more years than I can recall.
Ukon, hailing from Japan but sounding more Canadian than Oriental, is dressed in clotted cream double flowers with faint tinges of pale yellow and foliage that starts off yellowish-bronze and ends as orange-red.
It’s a good performer, one of numerous varieties in shades of pink, white and cream, that adorn our gardens in April and May.
But suddenly Ukon has a rival, albeit in the front garden but one which is capturing our daily attention as the buds unfurl and sends its flowers gazing over the garden wall.
Kanzan is its name, a Japanese cherry with coppery-red foliage when young, an upright grower and stunning double pink flowers with a hint of purple produced over the branches from late April.
Kanzan is not a new variety and is possibly the most popular of all the cherry prunus, but ours is the first I’ve bought – from Merry Harriers nursery (www.merryharriers.org.uk), near Bucks Cross – and this is its first year in bloom.
In Britain, the public have always seemed to love the cherries, though the flowering peaches, plums and almonds are also very desirable but appear more delicate than showy.
In Japan, they started growing cherries as far back as the seventh century. The aristocracy adored them and set up viewings known as hanami.
In Washington DC they hold a cherry blossom festival to celebrate spring, while in Britain the fashion got going in the 1920s and, to this day, you only have to see how many suburban lawns are enhanced by the glorious cherry blossom to realise they have never lost their glamour.
It’s true that the glories of prunus lasts for no more than a fortnight if you are lucky and that often there’s not much to celebrate in subsequent months.
Some, however, such as the pure white Shirotae, has new foliage in bronze and old foliage in golden tints – and it’s a tree that spreads itself wide rather than high.
Amanogawa is the choice of many, growing stiffly upright with soft pink double flowers that explode onto the scene in great profusion.
Prunus sargentii is one from Korea, bearing clear pink single blooms and leaves that are among the first to change to autumnal orange and red. Korea, eh? I wonder if someone has presented Kim Jong Un with a few of these and that’s why he’s been mellowing just lately!
And finally, Fudanzakura, another Japanese gem previously known as serrulata, and with copper-red emerging leaves and pink buds that turn a pinky white. This variety can show off its wares anytime between November and April, depending on how the weather is performing.
Finally, did I say? Well, there’s a long way to go to explore all the many shapes, sizes and growing habits of this extensive family, so do invade the garden centres and ask questions to suit your personal site, soil and weather conditions.
⏩⏩➡ Charming cherries: Top and centre – Prunus Kanzan; above – up close with Prunus Ukon.