There is hardly a group of trees that bring more joy in Spring then Japanese flowering cherries. My earliest memory of a flowering cherry was a Prunus Kanzan in a friends garden, of course I had no idea what it was called then but even at 12 years old I was impressed by its abundance of double pink flowers. Prunus Kanzan is indeed probably one of the most well known varieties and still a big seller, John Spillane’s great song ‘The dance of the cherry trees’ refers to this robust grower.
There are however many varieties, they come in all shapes and sizes with usually a pink or white flower or a colour somewhere in between the two. They have a long history in Japan, where they are its national flower and the term Hanami loosely translates as a cherry blossom viewing picnic which are extremely popular. It is definitely on my wish list to make it to Japan for blossom time. Some of the varieties are ancient and some have a fascinating history behind them.
Prunus Tai Haku, the stunning great white cherry was extinct in Japan until it was propagated from an old dying tree in Sussex in the UK, every Tai Haku now in existence has come from that one parent tree.
A neighbour of mine has a Prunus Shirotae in their garden, when it is at its peak I bring people to view it, I usually have to drive past it on the school run so around mid March I start to keep an eye on it, It has pure white, semi double scented flowers and it is what I call a table top cherry, usually wider than it is tall, with a flattened look on top, definitely one of my favourites.
Some cherries like Shirofugen have pink buds but open to lovely white flowers which again turn pink with age. Of course everyone thinks of the flowers when you think of cherries, but they also offer a lot more, Prunus Shogetsu also know as Oku Miyako or Blushing Bride leaves open quite bronze before turning green and finally lovely Autumn shades of orange.
If space is literally very tight, then the flagpole Cherry, Prunus Amanagowa might do the trick for you. If you like weeping cherries then there is several to choose from, Prunus Kiku-shidare-zakura, better known as "Cheals weeping’’ is a great choice for a small garden. Prunus Royal Burgundy has pink flowers in the Spring with dark purple leaves through summer that turn a lovely crimson in the Autumn.
Prunus shogetsu flowers later then most and if you have the room for several cherries you can pick varieties that will give you an extended flowering period. If that was your aim, you would start with Prunus Autumnalis Rosea, which is the earliest to blossom and its small flowers brighten up any winter Garden.
Flowering cherries are also way tougher than what people think, I am constantly amazed at some of the places I see them growing, there is one only 50 yards from the sea, looking directly out Bantry bay with no shelter whatsoever, it is shaped sideways by the wind but still grows away happily.
Many people complain that the flowers don’t last long and then choose a tree with no flower which is a shame. If Spring is forgiving, cherry blossoms will last for a few weeks and take your breath away when at their peak. I have named but a few of the many varieties available, but considering the colour from the emerging leaves, the spectacular Spring blossom, the varied and textured bark and of course superb Autumn colour, these trees have a lot to give.