Tag Archives: prunus avium



IMG_4991Fallen cherry blossom, Richmond Park

Cherry blossom in spring never fails to tug at our heartstrings. We are moved by the fragile mosaic of fallen petals on the grass and exhilarated by the sight of pale blooms against a brilliant spring sky:

yoshino close upYoshino Cherry against sky, Batsford Arboretum , Gloucestershire

Sitting stuck in traffic at a noisy junction at Vauxhall Cross I am distracted by two elegant white-flowered cherry trees which spread out their branches at the base of the movie-set-weary MI6 building and exert a self-contained, civilising influence over this grimy corner of the city. A little further south, the looming steak and curry-night posters outside the pub on Denmark Hill are masked for a few weeks by the intense blooming of a pair of cherry trees, one pink and one white.

I look up ‘cherry tree’ on Amazon – the titles are infused with nostalgia: the fresh delight of spring, the poignant passing of time. I smile at the cover of Josephine Elder’s 1954 ‘Cherry Tree Perch’. It is an impossible cover for a 2016 teenager, but there is a timeless element too – the beginning of the summer term, escaping from revision, dreaming about the time when school is over for the summer.

1954 cherr

And Enid Blyton does not miss a trick when she locates a set of young heroes in the idyllic and comforting world of  ‘Cherry Tree Farm’:



I confess we followed the same path when we asked our friend the portrait painter, Paco Garcia, to paint our three young sons. We were powerfully drawn to the idea of placing the boys under the ‘Great White’ cherry tree – Prunus ‘Tai-Haku’ – at my husband’s family farm in Suffolk.
DF 1

Prunus ‘Tai-Haku’ in the middle of the lawn, Suffolk

portraitPortrait of our three sons by Paco Garcia, spring 2003

The tree was planted forty years ago in the middle of the lawn nearest to the terrace. As well as its dazzling spring display, this tree has been a key player in family life for decades. It has provided shade at teatime when it is hot, it has been the place to put your new baby in his pram to gaze up at the gentle semaphore of the waving branches against the clouds, it was where the grandsons, when they were bigger, tumbled about on the petal-strewn grass with their grandfather’s new puppies. It was even – rather magnificently – incorporated in full flower into the 21st birthday marquee of my sister in law.

But this year, the cherry blossom in the UK has kept us waiting. Gardens with notable collections of cherry trees such as Batsford Arboretum and Kew Gardens invite visitors to telephone for updates. Each time I call, the recommended start date for a satisfactory blossom viewing is nudged a little later. The British approach is rather more gentle than the high-powered Cherry Blossom Watch in Washington DC – a city famed for its spectacular cherry blossom for over a century. In Washington, peak cherry blossom bloom is when the trees are exactly 70% out. Accurate forecasts and guidance are available for visitors and if you are still hopeful of catching some blossom, I’m afraid I have bad news. “Are DC’s Cherry Blossoms blooming?”, I want to know on April 27th, “No, they’re done for the year” declares the website. “The cherry blossoms reached peak bloom on March 25 2016”.


Back in London there is a moment at the end of March when entire London streets revel in their pale pink canopies of the particularly early flowering cherry plum, Prunus cerasifera ‘Pissardii’:IMG_4768IMG_4767cherry over front doorIMG_4793                                Prunus cerasifera ‘Pissardii’ – Holland Park, London

But there is a downside to this exuberant beginning – when the blossom floats away, the trees’  brownish-purple leaves give them a heavy, rather sulky look.

Down the hill in Ladbroke Grove, Chesterton Road is lined entirely with cherry trees, but even in the second week of April they are tightly in bud. I have to confess I am slightly hoping that the trees will be pink to match so many of the houses:

pink house then 2
chester then 2Cherry trees in Chesterton Road, tightly in bud

When I return on the gloomiest of spring days a couple of weeks’ later, the cherry trees are happily all in flower. They are not pink at all: instead they are lovely, clean, white-flowered Prunus avium ‘Plena’ – the more formal, double version of our native wild cherry. The street is softened by this haze of blossom as far as the eye can see.

pink house now chester now JPG chester now bestPrunus avium ‘Plena’ in flower, Chesterton Road, London

In a neighbouring street I catch sight of a little and large version of Prunus avium ‘Plena’ outside a pair of handsome Victorian houses. I love the balance of green and white against terracotta and green and white against white stucco, and it must be lovely to walk under a bower of pendulous blossom on your way to your front door. But there is a serious size issue to be considered when planting a dainty young cherry tree in your front garden. Too many trees – I am now rather obsessively observing them from my car and from the bus – were always destined to become too big for their site: they have become too heavy and have been chopped about in an attempt to squeeze them into the available space.

IMG_4963 prunus avium plena close up prunus avium plena elginPrunus avium ‘Plena’ – against terracotta and white painted stucco

On a more gorgeous day in a less lovely street in South London, indeed on the pavement alongside a railway, a row of fastigiate street cherries – I think they are the popular Prunus ‘Amanogawa’ – makes every passer by smile.

camberwell 1camber 3Railway-side cherry trees, Peckham

I love the added bonus of the trees’ elongated shadows on the tarmac:camber shadow                                              Cherry tree with elongated shadow

And looking up, the combination of palest pink flowers against a rich blue sky is exhilarating:camberwell 2camber 5camber 4Cherry blossom against blue sky, South London

As I wait for the right moment to head out of town I think about Japan, a country synonymous with cherry blossom.

The world of Japanese ‘hanami’ (flower viewing) is I am sure very beautiful, in parts. If you research it even for a moment you will be bombarded with extraordinary images of ‘sakura’ (cherry blossom) with Mount Fuji beyond, or of ‘night sakura’ or ‘yozakura’ when the cherry trees are hung with paper lanterns:








japanese-lanterns-in-park-full-of-sakura-trees_16Cherry blossom with Mount Fuji and ‘night sakura’ from the excellent blogpost ‘Insider Journeys’ by Rachel McCombie

Picnicking under the cherry blossom has unsurprisingly become big business, however, and websites such as Japan Monthly Web Magazine are happy to explain ‘How to Hanami’. The ‘must have’ shopping list includes ‘a typical plastic picnic sheet’, ‘more garbage bags than you think you will need’ and two types of ‘disposable body warmers’ – one is hand held and the other has adhesive so you can ‘tape it to your underwear to keep your back warm’.

Of course even McDonald’s has a special hanami menu – a teriyaki glazed pork patty with cherry blossom flavoured mayo in a pale pink bun and an outrageous looking Sakura Cherry Float to wash it down:


McDonald’s Hanami burger – image courtesy of the cheery blog EATAKUtumblr_inline_n2wyp1ubX91qb3qcf

McDonald’s Sakura Cherry Float – image courtesy of http://www.mcdonalds.co.jp

I know of course there are deeply beautiful, gentler ways to visit Japan at this time of year and I would head there like a shot. This seductive post from Gardenista, which shows how forager Louesa Roebuck pickles cherry blossom, brings the tempo back down to a subtle, delicate celebration of this fleeting moment in spring.

Gardenista-pickled-cherry-blossomsHow to pickle cherry blossoms – photograph from a series by Chloe Aftel on Gardenista

It is the third week of April and I can wait no longer for an expedition to see cherry trees growing in the countryside. My plan is to drive to Batsford Arboretum in Gloucestershire (which holds a national collection of cherries) via the Chilterns where I will look first for the wild cherry, Prunus avium.

I am inspired by Richard Mabey’s description of wild cherries in his ‘Flora Britannica Book of Spring Flowers’. He writes that ‘the wild cherry is arguably the most seasonally ornamental of our native woodland trees. The drifts of delicate white blossom are often out in early April, just before the leaves, while in Autumn its leaves turn a fiery mix of yellow and crimson. Even the bark – peeling to reveal dark, shiny-red patches – is extravagantly colourful for a British tree.’ In the Chilterns, when the trees ‘are at the edges of woods, as they often are (cherry needs light to regenerate), they can make the entire wood seem to be ringed with white at blossom-time.  A couple of weeks later, when the flowers have fallen, the woods are ringed again, on the ground. After the great storms of October 1987 there was another cherry delight the following spring: windblown trees blooming horizontally in the woods, like flowering hedges.’


Trying to research the best Chilterns woodland to aim for I am distracted by a wave of images of the American funk rock band, Wild Cherry. I fail hopelessly to get the band’s 1976 hit ‘Play that Funky Music’ out of my head as I make my way West on the M40.


But it is has been so cold that the only tree that is lighting up Ibstone Common when I arrive is still the delicate blackthorn or sloe, Prunus spinosa:

IMG_4849 prunus spinosa prunus spinosa instaPrunus spinosa, Ibstone Common

I find a single, skinny wild cherry, just in flower, under a canopy of taller trees at the edge of the path:
dat wild cherry 2 dat wild cherry                                      First wild cherry sighting, Ibstone Common

As I drive on I catch sight of further trees loosely radiant with flower. They have always found their way to the sunniest spots – not least the edges of motorways. At this rate the wild cherry will be with us well into May.

IMG_5008wild cherry view        Wild cherry – Prunus avium – in full flower, in the sunshine, at the edge of woodland

By the time I reach Batsford Arboretum the sun is warm enough to have lunch outside and it finally feels like spring. I set off hopefully around the 55 acre grounds. One of the first cherries I admire is this Prunus ‘Pink Shell – I like its rather startling top-heavy stance and its delicate bell-like flowers. Matthew Hall, Batsford’s Head Gardener, tells me that ‘Pink Shell’ is “not well enough known” and “never planted enough”. If you have the space to let it spread out in this exuberant way, you could source one from the nursery there.pink shellIMG_1763                                           Prunus ‘Pink Shell’, Batsford Arboretum

Also recommended by Matthew – and indeed on nearly every expert’s list of recommended cherry trees – is Prunus x yedoensis, the Yoshino Cherry. This is another cherry that grows in a lovely open way with profuse, palest pink, almond-scented blossom. In a large, meandering garden such as this, the Yoshino Cherry has the sort of fresh intensity that catches your eye from a distance and draws you towards it.

yoshino cherryyoshino cherry skywardsyoshino close upYoshino Cherry, Batsford Arboretum

A little further on I come across an elegant group of three young Prunus incisa ‘Fujima’. ‘Fujima’ is a wonderful cherry for smaller gardens – described by nurseries as a large shrub or small tree – with prolific palest pink blossom and handsome red and orange autumn colour once established. Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-No-Mai’ would be a great alternative for a small space. If you have a slightly larger space you could of course follow this example and plant three together.

fuji threesomefuji 2A group of three Prunus incisa ‘Fujima’, Batsford Arboretum

An even smaller tree is Prunus ‘The Bride’ with very pretty tight pink buds that open to white. The trees I see planted out and in the nursery at Batsford are very young indeed. I wonder if they will always look a little congested or if they will relax as they grow into a softer shape? I am undecided but the flowers are so charming it could be well worth a try.the bride close up

the bride closestBuds and flowers of Prunus ‘The Bride’

I make my way past a disconcertingly handsome mature Prunus cerasifera ‘Pissardii’. My general view of this purple leaved plum, of course, is that it can only disappoint once the flowers are over, but growing a tree well and giving a tree enough space can make all the difference, I tell myself.

IMG_4885                          Handsome, spreading Prunus cerasifera ‘Pissardii’, Batsford Arboretum

And then I come across a cherry tree which makes my heart sing. In fact there are a pair of  them – Prunus ‘Hillier’ – planted together. Each has been given room to grow old in a wonderful, slightly bent, gorgeously layered way. The towering cherries add a pale, fluttering lightness to the mature trees which surround them.


hillieri establishPrunus ‘Hillieri’, Batsford Arboretum

They perfectly frame the view beyond and I love the way the hanging branches act as the loveliest of veils.

IMG_4877A pair of Prunus ‘Hillier’ framing the view beyond


hilleri tangle close

hillier veil Hanging branches of Prunus ‘Hillieri’, Batsford Arboretum

Frustratingly I cannot find a current supplier for Prunus ‘Hillieri’. Matthew Hall at Batsford kindly suggests Prunus ‘Jaqueline’ as his first choice for a possible alternative.  ‘Jaqueline’ is a relatively new introduction with deeper pink single flowers. A probable hybrid of Prunus sargentii, it has the bonus of dramatic pink-red autumn colour.

I look again at the two fine ‘Hillieri’ cherries trying to work out what else it is about the planting that is so satisfying. My eye is drawn to the handsome,  katsura tree – Cercidiphylum japonicum – standing next to themThis has long been one of my favourite trees with its fine rows of suspended, light-catching leaves which smell deliciously of of burnt caramel in the autumn. It is clearly the absolutely perfect pairing with a shell pink flowered cherry and one I will aim to repeat.  IMG_1752                               The elegant dirty gold leaves of Cercidiphyllum japonicum

cercidiphyllum and hillier IMG_4868IMG_4871                                      Cercidiphyllum japonicum and Prunus ‘Hillieri’















APPLWE TREE AVENUWI have just returned from a works outing (well an end of project trip with my garden design partner, Helen ) to the Welsh Marches.   Top of our list of gardens to visit was a return to Bryan’s Ground near Presteigne in Herefordshire – three acres of intimate garden rooms and arboretum around a yellow painted 1912 Arts and Crafts House. The garden at Bryan’s Ground has been developed for the last twenty years by David Wheeler (publisher of the distinguished gardening quarterly, Hortus ) and artist and garden designer, Simon Dorrell.

The approach to Bryan’s Ground is elegant but initially subdued – a slightly after the party feeling.  The Amelanchier leading to the ‘Parking for Motors’ is in its most restrained phase – post blossom and bronze leaf and pre autumn fire:

Iamelanchier avenue

The Amelanchier lamarkii lined drive – in its quietest phase

The front of the house, cloaked in Hydrangia petiolaris, and protected by solemn heavyweight sentries of giant, shaggy Prunus lusitanica, is looking shadowy and ripe almost for a the opening of a darker fairy tale:


And the famous grid of 25 different apple tree which emerge from mown paths, each tree surrounded by a private sea of blue anemone, followed by Pheasant’s Eye narcissus, followed by  show-stoppingly dense planting of the slender, pale blue Iris sibirica ‘Perry’s Blue’  – is now quietly lush.


Drifts of Iris sibirica ‘Papillon’ – image from patient gardener.wordpress.com

apple tee grassBut it does not take long to warm us up. Looking more closely, the planting around the apple trees is now laced with pale pink field geraniums and softly fluttering tall grasses are now taking over as quieter, paler stars amongst the stiffer stems of the flowered iris.


There is a handsome new entrance archway to frame the arrival to the house via the orchard :IMG_4343

Entrance into the front garden at Bryan’s Ground

The archway has been built, beautifully, sturdily in the same handsome Dutch/Herefordshire vernacular as the ‘dovecote’ which lures you to enter the main part of the garden.

view sulking house

The Dovecote

The Dovecote has it all – which is when you remember why this is a garden of inspirational confidence and charm. It is a focal point from and axis into three sides of the garden  – each with its own flavour – and what is most covetable, perhaps, is that on the first floor there is a small dining room with idyllic views onto the Welsh Marches beyond.

The dovecote takes you through to a parade of formal topiary (albeit sweetly coexistng with leggy pink geraniums which lounge about freely throughout the garden) and acts as a handsome backdrop to the dense green of the yew and the softly planted steps – about to be set ablaze by Crocosmia

longer view side 2side two sulking houseThe steps here are about to be set ablaze by Crocosmia

And then you are finally let loose into the principal ‘Sunk Garden’


The Sunk Garden

For a moment I look back to see the dovecote nestling happily in stands of campanula and draped in roses.  No need to worry about missing the iris moment – which is brilliant and absolutely worth making a pilgrimage to see – the new midsummer fairy tale version of Bryan’s Ground is just unfolding.

side 3 sulking houseThe Dovecote with roses and Campanula

And I have two new loves in my life: the statuesque pointiness of fresh green teasel (Dipsacus fullonum):


Self seeded teasel and foxgloves against topiary hawthorn

– and the endlessly forgiving romantic haze of quantities of green fennel:

sulking house in sea fennel

The Dovecote nestling in a haze of topiary and fennel


fennel, teasel and lavender

stchys daisy and fennelGreen Fennel, Stachys byzantina and daisies

The wild self-seeding generosity of these two plants works so well, of course, because of the the dark solidity of the topiary it is dancing between:


Green fennel dancing between structural forms of hebe and yew

Every so often there are joyous rockets of super high foxgloves in the mix:

lightness of quicksilver

And throughout the garden the silvery, deliciously scented shrub Elaeagnus ‘Quicksilver’ is planted to add contrast and a shimmering brightness to the palette of greens:


Elaeagnus ‘Quicksilver’

In one corner of the Sunk Garden there is a wonderful rather medieval monster-head wall of yew with a wonky sliver of an entrance to tempt you furhter in:

fab monster head opening

Above all this is the generous loggia where you can sit and eat spiced apple cake and idly imagine for a moment that this is your own. The path back to the Dovecote is splendidly narrow with overspilling plants:longer view side 3

 Or you might choose to have your tea under a voluptuous swoop of pineapple broom (Cytisus battandieri) whose vivid yellow flowers are almost intoxicatingly pineapple scented:


Bench under gorgeous headily scented pineapple broom

And then the garden is calm again. Lime Alley on June 23rd 2014 is a shaded walk flanked by a quietly frothing carpet of Alchemilla mollis:

lime avenue

Lime Alley

In the spring, Lime Alley is singing with orange tulips, acid yellow Euphorbia polychrome and rich yellow azaleas but now it is calm and ordered, a perfectly judged break between the exhilarating Sunk Garden and the other midsummer rooms to come.

What really impresses me as I move around the garden is the simplicity of the planting – large quantities of astrantia and Geranium psilostemon:


Geranium psilostemon and astrantia

IMG_4271knautia macedonica and pink geranium

There are lovely walks through shades of pink with classic columns of yew for structure:long view psilostemon yew


–  And yet there is a constant supply of surprise and invention too.

There are sudden bursts of a new colour to keep you on your toes:SURPRISE BLUE AND CLARET

Aconitum and Cotinus amongst the pinks


Angelica gigas and Cotinus

A gently shabby archway of recycled materials adds a layer of quirky grandeur to the cottage garden planting:

home made arch

Archway of recycled materials

And then as you turn the corner, the palette changes completely.  FIrst to rich dusky blues and purples:


Acanthus and clematisIMG_4287

And round again to a corridor of pale yellows and silver
Phlomis russeliana a key plant in this corridor of yellow and silver

There is the cool quiet of the Canal:
dog canalThe Canal

and the wonderful formal garden with pool – first glimpsed tantalisingly, of course, through an opening in a hedge:


Pond glimpsed through hedge opening

Again we have missed the further swathes of Iris sibirica and what must have been a delicate knee-high forest of aquilegia in May. But the scene, here immaculately framed by a stilted hornbeam hedge and viewed from a perfectly place bench, is wonderfully restful.

POND THRU STILITSThe pond seen through the elegant limbs of a stilted hornbeam hedge

I love the license a plant has to self seed in this garden:


carpet of Aquilegia seedlings under stilted hornbeam hedge

As we move away from the garden and enter the Cricket Wood – a still growing collection of specimen trees and shrubs started in 2000 – we are aware again of the intensity of a particular moment in an area of planting. In early spring there are hundreds of bulbs in the woodland, later scented walks of viburnums and the fragrant yellow azalea, Rhododendron luteum and many of the trees are specially selected for the strength of their autumn colour. But for now the palette is subtle and beginning to fade and bleach into high summer.

The transition from garden to woodland is marked by a lovely tree-fringed area dominated by a stunningly beautiful Cornus tree – I think it is ‘Norman Hadden – with pink tinged white bracts. The Cornus is underplanted with swathes of palest pink astrantia and dashes of richer pink Martagon lily:CLOSE UP MARTAGON COTONEASTER CORNUS CLOSE UP

Cornus – probably  ‘Norman Hadden’ HELENGenerous swathes of palest pink astrantia in dappled shade


Within the wood itself there is a perfect tin-roofed house which looks increasingly fit for a fairytale the further you wander away from it and deeper into the woods:IMG_4414


The long softly planted avenues will take you to treasures such as a fine crumple-leaved medlar:


a gorgeous Cornus kousa var. chinensis:


and a cloud of light-catching bronze cotinus amongst its towering silvery neighbours:


Much grown since the last time we visited is The Mezquita  – a grid of bird cherry trees (Prunus avium) inspired by the onyx and marble columns of the the Mezquita in Cordoba. This had looked rather stiff and organised when we visited a few years ago but it is now a wonderful sturdy forest of slim-trunked trees which frame the view in every direction and offers a delightful place to sit:

IMG_4427The Bird Cherry ‘Mezquita’


 ripening fruit of the Bird Cherry

IMG_4440An enchanting place to sit

The planting around Strongacre Pool at the edge of the Cricket Wood is particularly lovely.  Papery pale and delicate with a boathouse to add to your dreams.


The Cabin at Strongacre LakeSOFT PALETTE BY PNDThe delicate palette of plants at the water’s edge

As you walk away from the boat house the little building seems to be floating in a sea of dusky pink grass.


The Cabin at Strongacre Lake

I should not have worried for a moment that missing the irises would mean missing the magic of Bryan’s Ground.IMG_4433