It’s February. Finally!! I don’t get on with January. It’s too grey, too cold, too dull, and too not-Christmas. But February is nearly spring. So I like it.
One thing that has helped me get me through the particularly dreadful weather and cold/flu season that was January 2018, was the winter-flowering cherry tree in our front garden. I love this tree. It flowers a bit, here and there, throughout early winter, and then, when I feel most grim, in the dullest part of January, it flowers its socks off. Many people cry out in adulation for snowdrops, as a bright, hopeful beacon in the the gloom of winter, but I think the winter-flowering cherry should have its praises sung just as loudly.
I don’t actually know what variety our tree is. It’s certainly a Prunus (trees in the cherry or plum family), and it flowers in winter. It’s likely that it is Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’, commonly known as the Winter Cherry or Autumn-Flowering Cherry (somewhat confusingly!)
Our tree has a lovely habit, with broad, spreading branches, that appear quite delicate, although they are clearly robust. It doesn’t cast much shade and has been easy to underplant with bulbs and perennials. Last year, I constructed a mini stumpery under the tree, with some old logs and stumps given to me by a friend. Ferns, Cyclamen, Primulas, Hellebores and Bunneras have thrived here, and the bulbs – Snowdrops, Muscari and Bluebells – are a welcome sight in spring, as they pop up from under the chipped bark in the border.
The blossom is not as blousy and dramatic as on the more well-known, spring-flowering cherries, such as Prunus ‘Kanzan’. The flowers are the palest, off-white, pink, with pretty clusters of stamens. They appear on bare stems, in flushes, off and on from November until March, except when very cold weather halts flowering. No other ornamental cherry does this. It also has bronze-green spring foliage, and good autumn colour, with the leaves turning orange and yellow, before dropping. Even the bark is quite attractive.
It’s a tree that will tolerate most soil conditions and aspects, and is reliably hardy. As it never creates much shade, reaching a maximum height and spread of 4 to 8m at full maturity, you can plant it pretty much anywhere, even in a small garden. So, I say, plant one where you’ll see it as you come home on a winter’s day. It will greet you with an effusion of blossom, which, when seen against a crisp, cold, blue sky, will lift your soul.
Here are a few photos of our tree, taken in winter and spring, over the past few years. I don’t seem to have any pictures of it in autumn, but I’ll be sure to take some this year…