God, it makes you feel old to think that Girls Aloud are now a thing of the past. We shall not look upon their like again. Sniff. But anyway, thinking about that former cultural phenomenon recently, I had a moment of nostalgia recalling the video for "I Can't Speak French", in which the Girls flounce around in very short, corsetted can-can skirts, with layers upon layers of net and frills and feathers in various shades of pink and pale lilac-y colours.
And for a second, the net and frills, those fancy skirts, gave me an odd little moment of excited anticipation. Not about Nadine's next solo outing, but about piles and piles of imminent flowering blossom, all in the brightest colours – the sign that spring is properly on its way. The very earliest blossom of the year (already to be seen in the middle of January in a mild year), flowers on bare branches, reminding me quite poignantly of Cheryl Cole's naked shoulders with her frouncy satin straps over the top.
One January gal already showing her stuff is the winter-flowering cherry, Prunus x subhirtella "Autumnalis". This tree flowers intermittently through the winter during mild spells, sometimes giving that cherry-blossom effect several times before spring officially arrives. It also comes in pink, under the title "Fukubana" (pictured); my mum has one in her back garden and it's already covered in pink buds, showing their colour vividly against a late afternoon winter sky of medieval blue. Standing in the cold last week, admiring the tight, tinged buds already being nosed by the first brave bees, my mum says, "You feel so grateful, to have flowers when there's nothing else," and I have to agree.
Then suddenly I hear a warm, bubbling sound over the cold air, the blinding light of the low sun and the long shadows. As the bird flies away, I see it is a mistle thrush, which Thomas Hardy celebrated in his midwinter poem "The Darkling Thrush"; a song I'd never heard till now in real life. It's the middle of the winter or the beginning of spring, depending on how you look at it, but I'm feeling cheerful, channelling Girls Aloud, listening to fresh birdsong and standing next to blossom that has actual bees on it. It doesn't get much better for mid-January.
And so the new year finds me going on about trees again – this time, small, elegant trees to be planted somewhere you can see from the window where you do the washing up. In fact, these Prunus are the perfect trees for even very small gardens; although all will do best in unobstructed sun for a good part of the day – perfect front garden material, in other words.
The habits of trees are important. And by that, I don't mean what time they get up in the morning and whether they contribute willingly to the electricity bill. I mean the individual way the twigs and branches curl to form a recognisable shape against the cold winter sky. The white Prunus carries soft, rounded flowers, reminding me of apple blossom, on radiating starlike bursts of branches; the pink, on the other hand, has a curling, wilder growth, which develops later in February, with increasingly tight-furled points of rose.
Each flowers on entirely bare stems, and can spare entire long twigs for cutting in early spring. Yet, after spring, they almost disappear from the garden, becoming invisible over the summer. Until, that is, their elegant long leaf turns a vivid red in autumn, another positive point of colour in the year.
But for the moment, it's can-can skirt blossoms imminent in my sightline. Ah, that's a nice thought: the Girls are back.
Winter wonders: Blossoming over the coming months
Prunus x subhirtella 'autumnalis'
Starred with pure white flowers in mild winter moments. £47.99 for a 1½m tree (All plants here from crocus.co.uk)
Prunus x subhirtella 'autumnalis rosea'
The same winter blossom as the white, but in a soft baby pink. £34.99, on sale now
Prunus cerasifera 'Nigra'
This black-leaved plum, which has an RHS award, is smothered in tiny pink flowers from March to April. £49.99
Prunus mume 'Beni-Chidori'
Technically this tiny beauty is an apricot. But what an apricot. Bright pink and almond-scented. Flowers March. £37.99