Trees with blossom: celebrate Hanami at home
by Emma Cooper
The Japanese have a delightful spring celebration called Hanami or “flower-viewing”, when they picnic beneath cherry and plum trees in appreciation of the blossom. There are blossom forecasts on television and large crowds gather. With wine flowing, special foods on hand and music playing, it’s common for the parties to go on all night.
If you would like to celebrate Hanami in Britain this year then Brogdale could be the place for you. The home to the national fruit collection is opening its gates to picnickers throughout April and May. (http://hanamiengland.blogspot.co.uk/). Alternatively, you could follow the 40-mile Spring Blossom Trail through the Vale of Evesham.
But if you’d like to host your own Hanami celebration in years to come, there are plenty of fruit trees that fit into smaller gardens and put on a good show in spring.
When to buy fruit trees
Container-grown trees are more expensive, but can be bought and planted out all year round. They are often well-established, and may provide blossom a year or more earlier than their bare-rooted relatives. And if you choose your tree in spring, you may have the advantage of seeing it in bloom.
If you prefer to buy bare root fruit trees, these are sold during the winter when the trees are dormant. They are cheap, establish quickly and come in a wide range of varieties, but they have to be planted immediately.
What to buy
The following varieties all put on a beautiful show of blossom and offer the added bonus of good fruit later in the year.
Cherries can be grown in containers; if you’re short on space then they can also be trained against a wall or fence. ‘Summer Sun’ is a dwarf variety with abundant blossom in early spring and should still crop well even in a gloomy summer.
Sour cherries are also a good choice if you can’t give a fruit tree full sun, and these grow well on a north-facing wall. Try ‘Crown Morello’, which is self-fertile and cold-tolerant and puts on a vibrant blossom show. ‘Griotella’ is a self-fertile dwarf variety with an attractive weeping habit, reaching a final height of 1.5 metres, and is happy in a large (60cm diameter) container.
Self-fertile, semi-dwarf plum varieties are available, with a final height of 2 to 2.5 metres, and they can be grown in large pots. ‘Victoria’ is a well-known and much-loved variety; ‘Greengage’ is also an option. For something a little different, try ‘Mirabelle de Nancy’ or ‘Beauty’ – both of which bear very sweet fruits once the blossom has faded.
‘Redlove’ apples are a recent introduction, distinguished by their red-fleshed fruit. But they also have unusual and long-lasting deep pink blossom in spring, which would make them a stunning addition to a blossom garden. ‘Redlove’ varieties are not self-fertile, but are easily pollinated by other apple trees up to 300 metres away. Their final height is 2.5 metres, but they stay smaller when planted in containers.
If you only have the space for one apple tree then consider ‘Duet’, which is a family apple tree that grows two different varieties. One is ‘Redlove’, with its deep pink blossom and red fruit, and the other is ‘Bionda Patrizia’, with contrasting white blossom and yellow fruit. The two varieties pollinate each other, and the tree can be grown in a patio container. In the ground, its final height is 3 metres, but it can be kept smaller with regular pruning.
Crab apple ‘John Downie’ is a popular choice as it grows large red crab apples that are very good for making jelly, but it is also impressive in spring, with pink buds that open to white blossom. ‘Golden Hornet’ is another good choice, with similar blossom but golden yellow fruit. Crab apples are self-fertile, and can be grown in containers. These two varieties grow to a final height of 3 metres when planted in the ground.
Peaches, pears, apricots and nectarines
It is now possible to buy ‘patio’ varieties of peaches, nectarines, apricots and pears that thrive in containers in a sunny spot. They are specially chosen to be self-fertile, dwarf trees, topping out at about a metre tall.
Patio Peach ‘Bonanza’ has a mass of pink blossom in spring and fruits in August.
Patio Apricot ‘Aprigold’ follows pale pink spring blossom with fruit in July, and Patio Nectarine ‘Nectarella’ features lovely dark pink blossom in early spring and fruits in August.
Patio Pear ‘Doyenne du Comice’ is self-sterile, grows no more than 2 metres tall, and has delightful spring blossom and fruit similar to Conference pears.
More unusual fruits
The fruit trees mentioned above are all familiar, but there are other trees with attractive blossom that are worth investigating if you want a good, long show. As well as ‘borrowing’ views of any hawthorn trees and hedges from your surroundings, consider Chaenomeles (‘Crimson & Gold’ has deep scarlet blossom, and fragrant fruit) or the snowy delights of Aronia.
How to get the best blossom
Fruit trees produce more blossom, and fruit better, if you give them full sun (only sour cherries appreciate a cooler spot). Late frosts, high winds and heavy rain all cause blossom to fall early – trees in pots can be moved to a sheltered location, but those outside may need wrapping in fleece in the worst weather.
Blossom is affected by conditions the previous year, so keep your trees as happy as possible. In containers, use a soil-based potting mix and slow-release fertilizer. Mulch the surface and water regularly, especially in dry weather. Stress may not be immediately apparent, but will affect your flowers the following year.
Finally, be patient – newly planted trees won’t bear much blossom for two years, and don’t reach their full flowering potential for four or five years.
For more information on choosing suitable trees, read Growing fruit in small spaces.