One of the abiding joys of Spring is the fact that many deciduous trees waken up from their winter dormancy and burst into flower. They are festooned in fragile blossom and look absolutely stunning and perhaps one of the most special of all these flowers is the Cherry blossom.
Cherry blossom along with the Chrysanthemum is the national flower of Japan and it is almost revered in that country, so much so that every spring evening on the TV they show footage of the most recent part of the country to experience full blossom as the wave of flowers sweeps from the south to the north of the country – a distance of almost 2,000 miles – parallel to the west coast of N. America from Mexico to Alaska.
The ‘Hanami‘ or ‘cherry-blossom viewing season’ can start as early as late January in Okinawa in the South and last until early May when the blossom finally opens on Hokkaido Island in the North, mind you in those northern islands they are not far from the wildernesses of Siberia and they can experience winter snowfalls in excess of 11 metres so it’s no wonder that Spring can be late arriving.
Beauty of their blossom
A friend asked, the other day, why do flowering cherry trees not produce cherries? The simple answer is that some do but most have been selected and bred to be purely ornamental and we choose them because of the beauty of their blossom, not the size of their fruit. In the case of the double-flowering blossom, they are sterile and not able to produce seed or fruit. There are, of course, cherry trees that will produce fruit, but again, they have been selected for their fruiting ability and the blossom will not be as impressive.
Cherry tree clones
There are nine varieties of truly wild cherry tree from which all the common flowering types have been created and once a successful, different blossom has been created, branches from that tree are grafted on to the stem of another cherry tree ensuring that all its flowers will resemble the parent from which the cutting has been taken. That way, hundreds of ‘clones’ are grown so that when you go to the garden centre looking for a specific double flowering, shell-pink blossom, e.g. Prunus ‘Kanzan’ you can buy it almost anywhere in the world under that name and be sure that it will have exactly that quality when it blooms in the Spring.
Mind you, it wasn’t always so. As recently as the early 1920’s, the Cherry tree was dying out in Japan as the feudal system was phased out and large estates were broken up. Later, WWll took its toll on the trees, which were chopped down for fuel and to enable agriculture. An English botanist, Charles Collingwood Ingram or ‘Cherry Ingram’ made it his life’s work to personally collect as many cuttings as possible from these disappearing trees and graft them onto trees on his estate in England, personally saving many varieties. He apparently stuck the cuttings into potatoes to keep them alive as they were transported back to Britain on the Trans-Siberian railway!
After the war, he was able to return many of these now almost extinct trees to Japan and preserve the blossoms we have come to know and love. These trees have now become symbols of Rebirth, Redemption and Restitution. You can read about his life and work by clicking here.
Nearer to home, the bluebell is now flowering and a Beech woodland with a carpet of the cobalt-blue flowers is a glorious sight to marvel at every Spring. This flower, which has been known since at least the 1600’s has gradually been forced further and further west, partly as a result of climate change and now is restricted to the Atlantic coast of Europe. Britain contains 50% of the world population of bluebells. The wild bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scriptais a threatened wildflower and it is illegal to dig up wild bulbs and sell them.
Native versus Spanish
Occasionally, you will spot a clump of bluebells with a white ‘albino’ bluebell which is quite rare or one or two pink bells nodding gently beside the blue flowers. In towns and cities, you are more likely to find that it is the Spanish bluebell, Hyacinthoides hispanica, which is flowering and as it escapes into the countryside, it is encroaching on the native flower and will ultimately take over the whole area. Both types of bluebell spread relatively quickly so if you introduce them to your garden, they can become a bit of a problem after a while. If you do want to grow bluebells in your garden, try and make sure that they are the native type – but how do you know which is which?
Flowers of native, or ‘English’ bluebells are narrowly bell-shaped, with straight-sided petals, deeply curled back at the tips. The majority of flowers droop from one side of the stem. The anthers are creamy-white and the leaves narrow, whilst the bell-shaped flowers of Spanish bluebell open more widely with the petal tips just flaring outwards or curling back only slightly. Some flowers may droop from one side, but most are arranged all around the stem and held more erect. The anthers of Spanish bluebells are usually pale to dark blue, and the leaves are wider.
Carpets of Bluebells
If you do come across a carpet of wild bluebells treat them really carefully and try not to walk among them. They are incredibly fragile, and they will have been there for a very long time. Did you know that it takes at least 100 years to establish a carpet of bluebells across the woodland floor? Nothing can match that hazy, smoky blue carpet of flowers and as you truly absorb the sight and smell of these massed flowers it is a unique and unforgettable experience that is only visible for all too brief a while.
Busy month of May
May is a busy month. The vegetable grower will be planting cabbages and potatoes, tomatoes and leeks; the weekend gardener will be filling pots and containers with begonias, petunias and geraniums and cutting the grass and the amateur sports enthusiasts will be golfing, running, footballing, whiling away the hours in various energetic pursuits but did you know that
May also hosts ‘National Naked Gardening Day’, ‘National Walk Safely to School Day’, ‘National Laughter Day’, ‘National Tap Dance Day’and ‘National Smile’month though, thankfully, they do not all occur on the same day!
May is certainly one of the busiest months of the year but it is also one of the loveliest, so make sure you take some time out to appreciate all the changes that are happening around you. Have that woodland walk or get up early to hear that dawn chorus. You won’t regret it, and you never know, you might even hear a cuckoo.
Places to see bluebells locally:
- Carron Glen – Denny
- Bluebell Wood – Bannockburn
- Glen Finglas – Brig o’Turk
Blog written by Margaret in the Gardening Team