Spring starts with its clouds of Cherries and Magnolias
This is probably the very best week in the year for me, where I have been able to watch the landscape around me turn greener by the day. Seeing trees in the landscape with just a light brush of delicious luminous green, interspersed with billowing white clouds of wild cherries. In the garden it is is just as good: I have to go round at least once a day to watch the spring spectacle unfold. When I have been away for a few days, the very first thing I do is go out and inspect. Quickly done in my own 80m2 garden in Berlin, in our garden near Brussels it takes longer, especially as some areas are going wild with nettles and brambles making my progress slower. At the Garden Academy it takes longer still, but there the obstacles are of a human nature, meeting customers and our gardeners to greet and talk to on my rounds. But it is well worth it: Every time I discover another little green nose urging its way out of the soil, another bud of the bulbs I so generously planted in the autumn pushing itself upwards. But in many gardens their show is stolen at the moment by the two big showstoppers: The flowering Cherries and the Magnolias.
Flowering Cherries – shrubs
The autumn-flowering cherry Prunus subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’ has still not quite finished flowering in our courtyard with its rather small, semi-double white flowers. With just a short break during the frosty weather, it has been flowering discreetly ever since November and has delighted me every morning as I step out of the house door. As it comes to a close, the others take over. The delightful little Prunus incisa ‘Kojou-No-Mai’ has sadly almost finished flowering. It is a sweetie with its compact shrubby habit, neat zig-zagging growth, and spectacular autumn colour, making it a great addition to the foreground of shrubberies, but equally interesting as a container plant for balconies and terraces. It has given way to another useful compact white flowered cherry, this one reaching about 2m in height, P. kurilensis ‘Brilliant’.
Flowering cherries – trees
Delightful as these may be, the real joy starts as the trees burst into blossom. The pleasure of walking under the fluffy clouds of P. x yedoensis with its softest pink flowers just makes one float.
- ‘Accolade’ has larger deeper pink blossoms with half-filled flowers, ensuring extra sprinklings of petal-confetti as they near the end of their flowering season. I love the way cherries drop their petals whilst still perfectly intact so the soil beneath is littered with immaculate confetti. The Japanese are right to celebrate the flowering of these special trees, we should all do this.
The first, ideal for smaller gardens, is Magnolia stellata with its compact habit and delicious perfume. Sadly these are already coming to an end, though M. x loebneri ‘Leonard Messel’ which is a soft pink hybrid that carries the lovely perfume of the stellatas still flowers profusely with its narrow stellar petals. Evening scented, they are the perfect plant to grow along the path to your house entrance. Also interesting for the smaller garden is M. liliiflora ‘Susan’ with its scented purplish-red flowers that will go on into early summer.
Deservedly popular and to be seen in many front gardens at the moment are the huge specimens of M.x soulangiana that were planted many years ago. Their season may be short, and each spring the large tulip-shaped white, flushed purple-pink flowers may threatened by the devastating effects of night frosts, but this makes up for the pleasure I have had all winter looking forward to the grand spring display and the quick stroking of those ever-so-soft buds every time I walked by. M.x soulangiana ‘Brozonii’ is the last one to flower with larger flowers, slender buds, with a dark flush at the base of the petals.
M.x soulangiana ‘Genie’ took many years of breeder’s patience to come up with this impressive dark purply red colour flowering into early summer. Like the other tulip-shaped hybrids, this is an imposing plant, with distinctive habit that needs plenty of space to be able to unfold its character over the years but will get the entire neighbourhood talking.
Regardless of where you are in Northern Europe, find yourself a park or an arboretum and just enjoy these ephemeral beauties this weekend: These are only a few of the many different species and varieties to be enjoyed out there!
Isabelle Van Groeningen