There is nothing quite as uplifting as a branch of blossom silhouetted against a spring sky. Japanese cherries, known in Japan as sakura, are among the most beautiful of blossom-bearing trees although they bear no fruit to speak of. The Japanese celebrate the arrival of the blossom every year with a blossom festival or sakura matsuri. Every year many make pilgrimages to iconic trees, planted in famous temple gardens or besides ancient castles, and picnic beneath them to view their blossom – a tradition known as hanami. Mount Yoshino is the oldest hanami site, and one of the most popular, with more than 30,000 trees that attract thousands of visitors every year.
Plant expert Val Bourned selects some favourites from the collection at Batsford Arboretum.
‘Takasago’ refers to a song associated with an ancient Japanese card game. The abundant pink blossom, held in clusters of three to six flowers, appears in April against young bronzed foliage on a slow-growing tree. 3m.
The blossom of this great white cherry looks fabulous when held erect against bronze-green, new leaves. It was reintroduced to Japan by British cherry expert Collingwood Ingram. 6m. AGM (Award of Garden Merit). RHS H6, USDA 6a-9b.
P. x yedoensis
Widely planted in Japan, this tree is short but wide spreading on poorer soil, but it can grow much larger if given better conditions. It has spectacular, almond-scented, blush-pink flowers. 8m. USDA 8a-9a.
This spreading cherry tree, which is wider than it is tall, flowers later than most. Its light-pink buds, which open to white flowers, are sometimes likened to little ballerinas. 4m. AGM. RHS H6, USDA 6a-9b.
A vigorous, strong tree with an unmistakable flat-topped, spreading habit and pure-white, semi-double flowers. It’s one of the earliest cherries to flower with elegant, long-toothed foliage. 10m. AGM. RHS H6, USDA 6a-9b.
Its name, which translates as the imperial yellow costume, refers to the delicate, creamy-white colour of its blossom, which resembles the greenish-yellow court robes worn in the emperor’s palace. The flowers are also touched with cerise and green so it’s sometimes sold as ‘Tricolor’. Introduced in 1914, it’s similar to the larger-flowered ‘Ukon’. 6m.
A large, early flowering tree with substantial, single pink flowersthat appear in March as new foliage opens to bronze. Good autumn colour follows, when the leaves turn maroon-red. It’s named after the American botanist Charles Sprague Sargent.
12m. USDA 4a-7b.
P. incisa ‘Fujimae’
A large, slow-growing shrub or very small tree that is smothered with pale-pink buds that open to white in early spring. Colours up to orange in autumn and could be grown in a container. 3m. AGM. RHS H6.
A small tree that, unlike most Japanese cherries, doesn’t blaze with lots of flowers at the same time. Instead between November and April, a succession of pink buds appear, which develop into blush-white flowers. 8m.
This stunning white cross between P. speciosa and P. incisa, was bred by the British cherry expert Collingwood Ingram in 1928. The April flowers are pure-white on an upright tree, and its name translates as seagull. 8m.
P. ‘Pink Shell’
A small, elegant tree with spreading branches that dangle cup-shaped, pink blossom amid pale-green, serrated foliage. From a seedling of uncertain origins, it is one of the loveliest cherries and is widely sold. 4m.
Fully double, pink blossom appears as the new leaves break on branches that cascade downwards to form an umbrella. The green foliage also has attractive bright-red stems. 3m. USDA 3a-8b.
P. ‘Pink Perfection’
Raised in 1935 at Waterers nursery in Surrey, and thought to be a hybrid seedling of ‘Shogetsu’ and ‘Kwanzan’. Its rose-pink, very double flowers last longer than most, beginning in early May. 5m. AGM. RHS H6.
This pink cherry has a hint of apricot to its flowers. A vigorous, spreading tree, smothered in large, semi-double, pale-pink flowers that show up well against brownish-bronze leaves. 8m. AGM. RHS H6
This April-flowering cherry has been grown in Japan since the the 17th century; its name is the former name for Tokyo. It is the best known of the pink frilly cherries with an inner tier of petals that is almost white. 5-6m.
Its flowers open slowly and peak in May, offering densely packed, soft-pink petals. The name means chrysanthemum cherry and is a tree the cherry expert Collingwood Ingram found to be ‘slow and stubborn’. 3m.
Its name refers to an ancient Buddhist temple in Kyoto. The soft-pink, semi-double flowers are held in purplish buds so the neatly arranged flowers on this small, upright tree have a unique two-tone effect. 5m.
P. x incam ‘Shosar’
This strong fastigiate tree – a cross between a P. incisa x P. campanulata hybrid and P. sargentii – was bred by Collingwood ‘Cherry’ Ingram. It bears beautiful pink blossom in early March. 12m. AGM. RHS H6.
In the UK, Batsford Arboretum, near Moreton-in-Marsh, holds an extensive Plant Heritage collection of Japanese cherries. These are planted in an oriental setting complete with authentic Japanese rest house and traditional bridge. Japanese cherries have been planted at Batsford since the 1960s, so the garden boasts a large collection displayed to perfection on the south-facing slope. Most flower in April, when many magnolias are out too, and they tolerate the sticky Batsford clay well – although it does reduce their heights
Batsford, Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire GL56 9QB.
Images Lynn Keddie