It’s been a long time coming this year, but after last week’s warm spell, spring is finally leaping out of the ground, from the branches of trees and strewing itself gently all around the place. I love this time of year. Everything brings the promise of good things to come; foliage is fresh and fat buds are setting; the days get longer and people begin to smile again. Even though you never know what the weather will do to you next, it feels good to be outside.
Flowering trees play an important role in the garden canvas, providing a burst of spring colour long before the rest of the garden is in full vigour. Especially in years such as this, where your bulb displays may have been badly affected by the late cold weather. Flowering trees offer other advantages as well, allowing the beholder to enjoy their lovely blooms and sweet fragrance without stooping to ground level. And once the blooms are spent, their glorious floral display gives way to interesting leaf shapes, colourful berries, and dazzling autumn colour.
If there’s one spring tree that awakens a gardener from their winter slumber, it has to be the cherry. In Japan trips from town are made to gardens simply to enjoy the delicate blossoms of the trees. If you have the space, then the Great White Cherry (Prunus ‘Tai Haku’) is the one for you – it grows up to 8m across! It was thought to be lost to the mists of time, until, back in 1923 it was rediscovered in a Sussex garden! In mid-April it is covered in a profusion of fragrant, single, pure white flowers, each up to 6cm across. But if your garden is small, don’t despair, Prunus mume ‘Beni-chidori’ is perfect as it’s naturally small at 3m height and spread and, even better, its double rich pink flowers are richly scented and open in April right along with all your spring shade lovers planted underneath.
Another great choice for this time of year is the underrated Malus genus. Just like the cherry, Malus blossom can be anything from pure white to deepest pink. The spring display of Malus hupehensisis both profuse and beautiful. The cup-shaped flowers are 4-6cms across, with five petals that are pink in bud but pure white with yellow stamens when open and softly scented. After flowering, small, round green fruits soon form. In early autumn, these turn a glossy bright red, hanging like bunches of cherries. The leaves colour well in the autumn. Malus hupehensisis not a tree for a very small garden – in good soil, it will reach 10m in height and spread at maturity, but where there is space it is very striking. There are a number of other excellent ornamental crab apples worth considering for smaller spaces, in particular: the more upright Malus x robusta ‘Red Sentinel’, which has white flowers and large, dark glossy red, enduring fruits or Malus tschonoskii, which has a narrow flame-shaped habit, making it very suitable for small gardens, as well as pink-tinged white flowers, yellow-green fruits and fantast autumn leaf colour. Malus x zumi ‘Golden Hornet’, is a small rounded tree with golden-globe fruits that hang on well past Christmas.
And we can’t write a blog about spring blossom without mentioning the designer’s favourite – Amelanchier lamarckii– which is a fantastic choice for a small space. It has very pretty white spring flowers and autumn leaf colour, as well as small red summer berries that are edible and loved by birds.