Blossom time has its own distinct season, breaking the hold of winter. In Japan they have a name for the celebration of this moment: hanami. The sakura-zensen, or blossom front, is charted daily on the news: you can see it moving up the country as spring advances.
Though blossom is an ephemeral thing, the season lasts a good eight weeks. I am writing at the beginning of it with all the expectation in the branches. Today it is mapped in the first buds on the Prunus cerasifera, the cherry plum or myrobalan. They were nothing but whips when I set them out five winters ago, but they are already twice my height. The branches are armoured with a latticework of wicked thorns that makes picking a branch for inside a challenge. The copper-leaved ‘Pissardii’ is tinged pink. It’s the plant we know well as a street tree, but I prefer to see spring opened by the purity of white.
Not all prunus are cherries. The genus spans apricot, peach, almond, plum, damson and sloe, the flower sharing the same awakening on bare branches, the fruit providing an array of mostly edible outcomes. The ornamental cherries, which come as the cherry plum is going over, provide the next wave. I prefer the simplicity of the single pink Prunus x yedoensis or, if I am to step up the volume, the white of the double, Prunus avium ‘Plena’. The double gean is a big tree so you need room to do it justice, but the flowers last another week over the singles and are exquisitely formed.
Cherries provide a myriad of varieties, each with their own particular quality and timing. You can complement your neighbour’s tree, yours taking over as theirs finishes. The weeping Prunus subhirtella ‘Rosea’ is one of the most ornamental trees I have ever planted. We put a little group around a pond in a client’s garden in Italy and gained the double image as the branches wept into the water. Underneath each tree we inherited a cave of branches that dripped to the ground and allowed you to be inside looking out to the blossom constellation.
The season is far from dominated by the cherries. You could count the North American redbud in the blossom stakes, for its branches are studded with tiny pea flowers as it breaks dormancy. Cercis canadensis is a puce-magenta, easier on the eye than the European Judas tree, Cercis siliquastrum. The American is happy in dappled conditions, the European will only flower really well in the sun.
A favourite small tree for the first half of April is the snowy mespilus, Amelanchier lamarckii. Their graceful trunks lift the delicate branches free of their companions. Where cherries are prone to dominating, Amelanchier lamarckii makes good company. Its buds are silken with soft hairs like the ears of a puppy. When they are about to open the tree has a coppery cast, which gives way to just-pink flowers. The tree colours fiery orange and red: a finale to the growing season.
Cherries prefer a free-draining site, but amelanchier can cope with wet at their feet if your garden has heavy soil or a high water table
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