On the Cherry Blossom trail…

Prompted by the request to find a replacement flowering Cherry my thoughts have turned once more to the beauty and significance of Cherry Blossom.

Growing up our back garden was dominated by two trees, a beautiful, graceful Laburnum and a huge flowering Cherry that turned our garden into a confusion of pink petalled confetti in the spring and a carpet of orange, red and yellow leaves in the autumn, much to the chagrin of my dad who assiduously mowed, fed, aerated, raked and generally faffed with a 60ft by 20ft lawn of monotonous grass.

Looking on google maps very little remains of my childhood home in the front garden, the front wall, a rose and the side gate. Even less in the back, the sattelite picture shows a bleached rectangle of grass. Grass that mum and dad would attempt to keep looking good with all the grey water from washing up and baths. The two main trees are gone and their welcome shade with them. A giant Cotinus dominates one edge, I remember this being planted as a small cutting amongst delphiniums, next to a chaenomeles and my mum finding it hilarious as I bit into the tart fruit of the Japanese Quince. I now practice this same sense of humour on unsuspecting victims. I will never give you anything poisonous but I might give you something that turns your mouth inside out!

Next doors garden surprisingly retains a recognisable structure still, “Hog’da’ball Harold’s” glasshouse still stands proud, Marking where in the garden the now missing Laburnum once stood. Memories of losing the football to his jealous clutches, which is how he earned his nickname, after it threatened the shelter of his tomatoes and sitting designing jewellery in the sheltered spot underneath the Laburnum and his Glasshouse make me smile. I think he would be delighted to know its still standing.

Ulting Wick’s Cherries in spring

I digress though, I’m hear to talk about Cherries!

The Cherry in our back garden stayed in my head and when I bought my house in Birmingham I chose it based on the fact that when I first saw it, the cherry tree in the front garden reminded me of my childhood home. Trees have the power to do that.

Where I live now has 2 beautiful Cherry trees which give me huge amounts of joy and there was a slight mystery about them which took me a while to fathom out. As I’ve mentioned in the past the house that I live in now was once the home of Mrs Cramphorn, wife of Major Cramphorn, owner of Cramphorns Garden Centre a family business that dated back as a seed merchants to sometime in the 1700s! There’s very little in the garden that has survived the depredation of the local warren of rabbits, muntjacs and pheasants but these two trees, some snowdrops and a bearded iris.

Although at first glance these cherries appear to match, flanking a now disappeared path there are subtle differences between them. One comes into flower just before its leaves emerge. The other flowers as its leaves emerge. One has a bronzy tint to its new foliage, the other fresh green leaves. One is more sparsely branched and slower growing than its companion but these differences are subtle and only noticeable by their proximity to one another.

Ulting Wick’s Cherries in Autumn

So I set out to find out who they were!

Working down the road from Collingwood ‘Cherry’ Ingrams garden, and as I said before about my childhood garden, I had already established an interest in the trees but I had no idea until 2014 of the story behind Japan and England’s important connection regarding Cherry trees. This is best told by others and there is a fabulous book called ‘Cherry’ Ingram: The Englishman Who Saved Japan’s Blossoms (and also ‘The Sakura Obsession: The Incredible Story of the Plant Hunter Who Saved Japan’s Cherry Blossoms’) by Naoko Abe. Its an incredibly sympathetically written story that tells the life of this man born in the 1880’s who saves and reinvigorates the Japanese nations love of their native trees at an incredibly hard and turbulent time.

There is also a book written by the man himself in 1948 that I would love to get my paws on ‘Ornamental Cherries. Written and illustrated by C. Ingram’.

I had intended on visiting his garden in the spring of 2019 but for some reason, I forget why, I never made it. Confidently supposing that it would simply be a case of rocking up in 2020. How little we all knew! I can only hope that at some point in the future this option might become available once more to me as I bitterly regret not visiting such a historically important collection now!

But back to MY Cherries!

I was very kindly sent a Key to identifying Cherries, which I believe came from Cherry Ingrams book, but is reproduced in the fascinating read I’ve attached here, written by Wybe Kuitert on Japanese Flowering Cherries.

The Key starts on page 144 but be aware you may need to read up on the previous pages which give you an excellent crash course in botanical terminology unless you’re very familiar with terms such as pistil, corymbs and acuminate leaves!

with the aid of the Key I was able to establish that my Cherries were….*DrumRoll*….

Prunus serrulata ‘Kanzan’

Syn. Prunus lannesiana ‘Kanzan’

Bred in Japan, sometime prior to 1868 it was introduced to the UK around 1913, Its name literally translated means ‘Beside Mountain’

Flowering Late April, the new foliage has a beautiful bronzy tint and a good orange to red autumn colour. Tolerates a cold climate and poor chalk soil well.

Prunus serrulata ‘Pink Perfection’ 

‘Pink Perfection’ was developed in the UK by the British nursery of Waterer Sons and Crisp in 1935. It was a seedling of ‘Shogetsu’ with possibly its pollen parent being Kanzan.

Flowering in early May it produces very pale pink, loosely double flowers on a tree with a very open habit. Slow growing.

The future of Cherry trees

Once almost lost to Japan, Cherry trees are once again a focal point of the Japanese year. This alongside the ever popular Wisteria and the practice of forest bathing is reconnecting people with nature in a highly populated country in love with technology.

But what about here?

Flowering Cherries are short lived, they are the shooting stars of the tree world sometimes lasting no more than 60 years before succumbing to old age and the ones I fell in love with as a child which were old even then are mostly gone with few taking their place.

The National Trust has just announced an initiative of planting blossom trees around the country and I’m SO behind this idea! Its truly marvellous! Imagine a whole new generation of budding gardeners falling in love with cascades of windblown petals.

You too can make a difference and there are many varieties which can be grown even in a tiny garden, in fact Frank P Matthews lists 91 varieties of Flowering Cherry. All shapes sizes and colours so get out there and plant a Cherry for the next generations sake!

RHS Wisley

7 Replies to “On the Cherry Blossom trail…”

    1. Hi Andrew I used the Key to work out which ones they were and yes I think i mention this in the last paragraph. Its a brilliant idea 😀

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  1. When I retired and got serious about gardening, I bought a shade loving blue plant called Omphalodes Cherry Ingram, little knowing who Cherry Ingram was or might have been. Then I became a volunteer guide at Hidcote. In my talks I use photos of Lawrence Johnston and George Taylor with General Smuts, plant hunting in South Africa. The photographs were taken by Collingwood Ingram who is never in front of the camera. So when I give my talks I always explain just who was behind the camera and why he was called Cherry.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Well it’s a talk I give in the gardens so I don’t use a lot of supporting images etc but I have no problem developing it into a powerpoint and delivering it via zoom. Let me have a look at some of the supporting material and I’ll get back to you with a synopsis. Can we so this by e-mail?

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  2. Great to see you promoting cherries. Yes Cherry was so much an inspiration and its a lovely book about him. I’ve just read it. I bought very cheap the book by Geoffrey Chadbund at Harrogate Flower Show when I was still in my teens and it was a great inspiration, such that we planted a collection in the grounds of the school where I once worked – Handcross Park, same village as NT Nymans Gardens. Its good to hear from the Manager at The Grange, Ingram’s house in Benenden, that they hope to do some garden restoration. Ingram said he lived longer that his cherries… I expect you know Peter Kellet at The Laurels Nursery just outside Benenden; he has been so helpful propagating cherries. My friend Phil Holmes who has been at Nymans for 50 years, tells me they are planning to plant more cherries there. He started there in 1970, aged 15.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah thank you Dan, I’m very glad you enjoyed it and thank you so much for the info on C. Ingrams garden. Its wonderful to know its in good hands! Also, good to know Nymans is doing good work, id love to see it again once lockdown is over! oddly, given the fact i lived in Rolvenden i never visited Peters Nursery, I wish I had! … especially as im after a Cherry tree! :p

      Liked by 1 person

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