‘Cherry Blossom’ is a quintessential part of the Irish spring. But it is even more so in other parts of the world. Vancouver has an annual Cherry festival, complete with ‘Cherry scouts’ to guide you around. Brooklyn Botanic gardens has a great show, as well, the ‘Sakura Matsuri’. Amsterdam has a Cherry planting to complement it’s more famous tulip,
planted by the ‘Japanese Women’s Club’ in 2000. Seattle’s Cherry festival has being going for 39 years. Macon, Georgia has had a Cherry blossom festival since 1982 with Cherry blossom cupcakes and in Washington D.C. there are ‘blossom forecasters’ to predict when the 3,000 Cherry trees will flower alongside the Jefferson memorial. This last festival had it’s centenary in 2012.
However, it is Japan which is indelibly linked to the Cherry tree. After the long dark nights of winter, the tiny pink and white pom-pom blossom of the cherry tree is a welcome sign that spring is on its way. Japanese culture takes this flowery symbol a step further with the tradition of ‘hanami’, admiring the blooms
for their fleeting beauty, seen as a metaphor for life – here one moment, vivid and wonderful, and then gone the next. Whether you want to tap into your philosophical side under the trees or just enjoy this most cheerful sight of spring, here are some of the best places around the world to enjoy cherry blossom.
Yoshino, Japan, is one of the most popular places in Japan to see the cherry blossoms and hundreds of thousands of people visit each year. The main attraction is the mountain, which gently slopes up over four different altitudes – which means the trees
blossom at different times – starting at the bottom and gradually creeping up the mountain, leading to a jaw-dropping pink carpet effect.
In Ireland, we treat the Cherry with less reverence, possibly due to the all pervading ‘shocking pink’ dominance of Prunus ‘Kanzan’, which is present in streets, parks and gardens all over the country. This is a large tree, too large for many of it’s locations, and the term ‘overused’ springs (!) to mind.
However, there are many different forms of Cherry, even for those flowering at ‘Cherry blossom time’, usually beginning in the last week of April in Ireland. The Cherry most famous in Japan is named after the region above; the ‘Yoshino Cherry’, Prunus x yedoensis. This flowers earlier in April and is a very beautiful but rare tree in Ireland.
There are several very good white Cherries flowering around the same time as ‘Kanzan’. ‘Tai Haku’ is single flowered and is often termed the ‘Great White Cherry’.
‘Shirotae’ has double white flowers and a slightly pendulous habit and ‘Miako’ is also a double white but more compact.
Somewhat later than ‘Kanzan’ is the paler pink ‘Shirofugen’, in which the flower blends nicely with the opening leaves.
‘Jo-nioi’ seems to be one of the latest, waiting until mid May to produce it’s single white flowers on a small tree with horizontal branches.
Another unusual cultivar is ‘Ukon’ which flowers around the same time as ‘Kanzan’ but has cream flowers which open against the coppery foliage. This also makes a large tree unsuitable for most suburban gardens.
One attribute of many Cherries that people tend to overlook is
the excellent orange red colour which the leaves take on in the Autumn. This adds an extra splash of colour after a long period of dullness during the Summer.
In conclusion, I would urge you to look beyond the usual Cherry cultivars with which we tend to associate the term ‘Cherry Blossom’ and seek out some less common forms. There are many forms out there, finding them may be more of a challenge but ultimately worth the trouble. And of course, make the best of them while they last.