June: Winter flowering cherry: Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’, or Higan Cherry

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June 17, 2018

It’s a rainy weekend. Rainy winter days are usually warmer in this river valley than dry ones. Brighter too, than the days when the veil of fog hangs on till after lunch, opening like the shutter on a camera to show an all too fleeting picture of pale blue winter sky and lemon-yellow sunlight.

Though not as cold as some mornings, we are gathered in the kitchen where the fire is. From the window we can see the winter flowering cherry. This is no spring flower come early. We are yet to have the shortest day. Despite frosts this tree clothes its leafless branches with  delicate, just pink, ruffled blossoms in readiness for the longest night.

Ours winter flowering cherry is dwarfed beside a red flowering gum (actually pink flowering) and not far from the car-port. It is in the foreground for the neighbour and the background for me. I’m jealous of the neighbours bedroom window-full view of it such that I have plans to plant another.

It’s been in this garden for as long as I can remember. A clever gardening woman gave it to my parents as a wedding gift. It has a spreading habit, its branches are angled at about 45 degrees from the ground starting from the base of the tree and thus it’s foot-print is fairly large. It does not get larger than 8 metres high. It flowers twice, prolifically in June, and then again, with fewer blossoms in spring. It’s leaves go gold and orange in autumn. It doesn’t produce a cherry worth mentioning. It has no scent to speak of. It originates from Japan, but is the consequence of cultivation and is unknown in the wild.

My sister once pretend married my cousin under it on her June birthday when she was six or so and my cousin, disguised in a rubbery mask of a fleshy old man, eight. What other plant gives you wedding blossoms to marry under in June?

I bring a branch or two indoors. In a cold room (which most of the rooms in this house are in winter) it will remind you of a world and a time beyond the fog for at least a week.

I infinitely prefer the subtlety of the winter flowering cherry to the heavy make-up of some of the larger and more abundant spring flowering Barbie-pink prunus trees.

They say one should plant it in a square hole rather than a round one, to encourage the roots to spread out.