Open season: Spring's taken its time coming, but suddenly everything's blossoming at once
Sunday 05 May 2013
So there turns out to have been a stupendous silver lining to a year so far spent waiting for winter to leave: all at once our incredibly tardy spring has arrived, and every blossom tree that would have sensibly spread itself over March and April has opened simultaneously.
Suddenly, the world is all pink and white fluttering flowers, like blossomy bunting, everywhere you look. In London, this has given the entire city a fantastic, dressed-up, totally unrealistic look – every street seems to have been specially decorated by skilled professionals for an imminent appearance in a Richard Curtis film called something like Spring Fling. The effect is gobsmacking.
White and pink magnolias – the ones with little star-shaped flowers (stellata) and the ones with big pink teacups (soulangeana) – have put on a synchronised show, when normally one is browning by the time the other gets going. Try out the look at home with proper-sized magnolia stellata, studded in white flowers; or, if you have space, try deep carmine magnolia "Black Tulip" for a truly stupendous effect.
Magnolias, though, deserve only a certain percentage of the overall credit. Richard Curtis will have to acknowledge, in his awards speech, that cherry trees in pink and white have also played a massive part. Actually, that shouldn't just be cherries. It's fruit as a general category that ought to be taking a gong. Cherries, apples, plum; even, in fact, apricots.
Early on, the Japanese apricot, Prunus mume "Beni-chidori", had some stunning, rose-pink blossom on dark, raw stems, and it's a perfect garden tree, never getting bigger than a few metres. Or there are plenty of other Prunus to choose from. You can buy them weeping (such as "Kiku-shidare", which drapes blossom on to your shoulders as you walk beneath) or ramrod straight ("Amanogawa", a "columnar" cherry, bred to fit blossom even into a narrow vertical space). Just take your pick.
Less famous as a fruit, but still heavy with May Day blossom, is the hawthorn, a tree which groans with grim red berries in autumn. Crataegus laevigata "Paul's Scarlet" is a favourite of the council on the streets around where I live, celebrating the end of April with a bold, affirmative blaze of what I cannot agree to call scarlet, but which we would pretty much be happy to term "Barbie pink". Every flower is a double, a tiny rose of deep-rose petals.
And there's still blossom to come. Waiting in the wings are the Cornus, the dogwoods. These are often slightly larger trees, and not so suitable for small gardens, but if you ever get to try lying underneath one at Kew Gardens, with blowsy blossom crossing a blue May sky, I don't think you'll be complaining. The flowers are even more delicate than the fruit trees', like tiny paper cutouts, or old-fashioned confetti.
And on the subject of fruit trees, we still await incoming blooms from Malus, the apples, and Pyrus, the pears. This week there are the first crab apples, flowering in white touched with pink edging: Malus floribunda gets covered in blossom, reminding me of a small child who's put too much shampoo on their head. Then there's "Wedding Bouquet" (Present problems? Solved!). This is one where the flowers come at the same time as the leaves, so you get creamy swathes of ivory flowers with pricking green leaf buds.
Or, for greater oomph, Malus "Profusion" is an outrageous deep pink, standing out in a whole season of them. And "Royalty", with its deep reddish-purple leaves: this tree has stood the pollution by our local bus stop for years, producing a cranky old tree that still feeds countless parakeets come autumn. Yet my favourite sight of blossom remains the tiny white flowers on my own pear tree, signalling another year of optimism that I will get to eat any of my own fruit before the birds do. Blossom: transitory, fragile, gaudy and mood-enhancing. What better way to see in May?
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