We have just wound our clocks forward for spring. It’s time to shake off that duvet we have been hibernating under through the winter months. Flinging open those shutters, we can breathe in the fresh air and enjoy the vibrancy of the world springing back to life. Not to mention those long light evenings! Spring is also the start of the Japanese blossom festival or Hanami. This Japanese traditional custom celebrates the ephemeral beauty of those delicate blossoms (and life). It is named after the flowers or “hana”.
I was lucky enough to be in Tokyo 10 years ago, where I followed a sea of people to Ueno park. Here, crowds of friends and family were gathering with their bento boxes for picnics under the drifts of blossom trees. It was a spectacle not to be missed and has instilled my passion for blossom trees ever since. Where can you see the Cherry Blossom festival in Japan? Here are some of the best place to see Hanami.
Blossom trees really are worth their salt in the garden, so here are 10 reasons to find a space to plant them in yours.
1. Blossom trees come in all shapes and sizes so there is one for any size of garden
One of the best blossom trees for a small garden is the Amanogowa cherry tree. It can grow to only 4m high and is upright in shape growing to only about 2.5m wide, so is perfect for a tiny bijou front garden. Prunus amanogowa has a very pretty semi-double blossom with the feint smell of almonds. It is a great tree to screen passers by in the street. A row of Amanogowas are just coming into bud outside our window now. If you are not sold on these Cherry trees, many Crab apple trees are also fairly compact for small gardens.
At the other end of the scale if you have more space in your garden, the wild cherry (Prunus avium) can grow up to 20 m tall and there are many different sized trees in between. To find your perfect blossom tree, these are some of the best cherry blossoms to plants in your garden.
2. Blossom trees can be trained into screens, wall coverings and hedges
Blossom trees are super-versatile and can be used the garden in many different ways. There is a beautiful fence of espaliered crab apples (Malus Red Sentinal) in Shepherd House garden at the end of the village. This separates the different areas of the garden. It is laced with blossom in the spring and shiny red fruits into the winter so looks stunning for most of the year.
Apple and pear trees can also be trained as espaliers and cordons. Plums and cherries can be trained into into fans. These can be planted as a screen or against a wall or fence to make the most of your space. Hawthorn, blackthorn and bird cherry make natural blossoming hedges to screen your boundaries.
3. Early colour in the garden
After a long winter of grey skies and a dearth of colour in the garden, nothing can lift the spirits more that the sight of a tree in full blossom. Some of the best early flowering blossom trees are the Amelanchier trees with very pretty natural looking white star shaped flowers. These make a great tree for any small garden. Blackthorn and damson trees also blossom early in the year.
4. Bullfinches and dormice love Spring Blossom
Bullfinches love to chomp on the ornamental plum blossom that grows along our boundary fence sending confetti floating to the ground like snowflakes. Planting a blossom tree is a great way to attract these striking birds, which can bring your garden to life. Hawthorn flowers are also a favourite delicacy of the shy and retiring dormice.
5. Blossom is an early source of nectar for the bees
Crab apples and rowans are good source of early nectar for bees. Hawthorns also provide food and shelter for over 300 insects, making it an outstanding tree for wildlife. Why attract pollinating insects into your garden? Pollinators are vital for many plants to produce fruit, flowers and seeds, which we rely on for food and these are declining in numbers. If you would like to encourage more wildlife into your garden, here are some more of the best plants for attracting pollinators and best trees for attracting wildlife into your garden.
6. Many blossom trees also produce fruit in the summer
The blossom is just an added bonus to apple, pear and damson trees, which produce fruit to feast on in the summer months. Our James Grieve apples can either be eaten raw or used for making apple tarts and crumbles. Last autumn I could not resist buying a damson tree, as I missed the delicious jams, icecreams and crumbles I used to create from the damson tree in our old front garden. Fruits can be gathered to make crab apple jelly, hawthorn syrup and sloe gin.
7. Blossom trees provide fruit for the birds
Blackbirds and thrushes enjoy the Crab apple and rowan fruits. Haws are rich in antioxidants and provide sustenance for many migrating birds such as redwings.
8. Blossom trees with beautiful autumn leaves
Not only do they look good in spring, the ornamental cherry trees are also a great choice for their stunning autumn foliage. Prunus shirotae and Prunus sargentii are some of the best Cherry trees for autumn leaves.
9. Blossom trees can have stunning bark for winter interest
Many varieties of ornamental cherry have pretty bark, which means they look good right through into the winter, when many other garden plants have long given up the ghost. One of the most impressive is Prunus serrula which has a striking mahogany coloured bark. This glows as it peels away in paper thin strips and the sun shines through it.
10. Blossom trees are easy to look after
For all their assets, the blossom trees I have mentioned here tend to be fairly easy going, hardy and easy to look after. They generally require no more than a bit of pruning into shape once a year. Cherry trees should be pruned in summer to avoid getting the silver leaf fungal disease. Espaliers, cordons and fan-trained trees are pruned around the beginning of September to restrict their growth. Free standing trees are generally pruned while they are dormant in winter. More information on how to prune fruit trees can be found here.
So you don’t have to be a keen gardener to plant one and what’s not to love about a blossom tree? With their early flowers, summer fruits, autumn leaves and winter bark and their ability to bring wildlife in, they really do earn their place in the garden.