How to get ahead with cherry blossom

Anna McKane offers a guide to spring flowers
Click to follow
Gardeners who like to be first in the street with grasscutting and first with the barbecue will need to choose carefully from hundreds of flowering cherries to be first with the blossom. To be certain to beat the crowd, the winter flowering cherry is the one. Prunus subhirtella Autumnalis comes into flower in November and continues on and off until March.

This little tree has fine, twiggy branches covered in buds. It will produce as many as three flowering spurts through the winter.

But trees brave enough to flower in the cold do not produce the huge show we expect from blousey double Japanese cherries such as the Kanzan. As a compensation for smaller blooms, the early flowerers have a longer season.

Prunus incisa is in flower in some areas now. The white-flowered P incisa praecox, which flowers in a month-long burst around the end of February, is probably the earliest, with a big show. It has the advantage of being small, almost shrublike, though given time it will become a small tree.

Next to flower are the ornamental almonds, forms of Prunus dulcis, whose flowers appear all along the branches, making them look like a Japanese painting. The most common are single, with deep pink stamens, giving the flowers a darker eye. Prunus Kursar flowers at the same time,with double deep pink blossom.

Next to flower are ornamental peaches, types of Prunus persica, which are like almonds in style although the flowers are generally smaller.

By late March many of the cherries will be getting into their stride, starting with the magnificent Prunus Accolade, with its large, rich pink flowers. These generally appear with the main show of daffodils. Prunus Pandora is another lovely one, with powder pink flowers.

Having chosen an early flowerer, the next consideration is a background for the blossom. With later flowering trees this may not be a problem, as by late April other trees will be coming into leaf. The best background for blossom is a blue sky, so it is worth trying to site the tree where it will be seen from below, from a path or ground floor window. The least effective background is one of bare twigs on other trees, as the blossom is lost in a muddle of branches. A stuccoed house wall makes a better backdrop, or evergreen trees or, perhaps the ideal, the middle of a lawn.

There are shows of blossom at Kew, and at the Hillier Arboretum, near Romsey, Hampshire. But one of the best is at Telford, Shropshire, where a Japanese-owned firm, Maxell, started a Prunus collection by giving the town 1,000 flowering cherries.Chris Jones, who looks after the collection, says the best display will be in mid-April.