Gnarly Branches, Ancient Trees

(c) Dan Robinson
(c) Dan Robinson

As you read this book you can feel the emotion of understanding, an understanding that bonds the ‘Author to the Artist‘.
From the moment that Will and Dan first met, when Dan explained to Will the true pronunciation of the word
Bonsai, as Bone-sigh and not Bonzai (The karate kid yelled voice with a chop to match), this friendship was moulded.

This book is more than a story of a life enriched by trees. It is a descriptive piece that leads you the reader into an understanding of this great American pioneer, a depiction that details the challenges in Dan’s life in more than just creating ’Gnarly’ masterpieces.

The main character, the artist, the champ as we used to say for our favourite western flicks is known to his peers as the ’Picasso of Bonsai’, a pioneer who coined the phrase ’Phoenix Grafts’. A ‘Phoenix Graft’ is a technique were you bond a dead tree with a younger tree using various techniques.

Dan is also known as the man who changed the traditional styling of Bonsai to new techniques back in 78’. Very much a western style, a controversial technique using power tools for designing and crafting his trees, it is a technique that has been adopted globally since.

The imaginary in this book is awe inspiring, it is an inspirational piece of work that will bring you through the journey of this great man’s life.

(c) Craig Coussins
(c) Craig Coussins
There was a Bonsai Master in Japan in the mid 20th century . His name was Kitamura. He had a small but important school and his philosophy was to buy Bonsai , deconstruct these and create a more natural tree image. Far too many wonderful and well know Bonsai are artifice. They are indeed beautiful but they do not look like trees.
What Dan Robinson does at one end of the spectrum is allow a tree to develop naturally with some controls as to the shape. However, what Dan does is collect very old Yamadori that he keeps alive and just allows these to continue in style along the lines from which it was growing naturally. Dan can crate a Bonsai in as accepted a style as any other experienced master but he tries to retain the natural image of the collected tree. Based on his methodology of the age of these Yamadori, some are in excess of 1000 years old. What in any ones name would you wish to do to a tree that was already a dwarfed by nature tree other than appreciate the image of the tree itself.
I have many Yamadori as do many growers, but many of the trees that we collected need forming , branches need to be grown, buds developed and at last we can see the tree in the wood. Just look at some of my books and you will see what I mean. Branches on great trunks may be long whippy things and I need to inarch and graft, bend and shape the branch into an acceptable (to me as the artist) shape of a tree in nature. Not a highly sculpted shape that bears little resemblance to what I am used to IN MY AREA. And that is the key. I create trees that I am comfortable with. Trees that I see around me.
When I teach in other countries I create trees that I see in that area. . I try to make the image into a tree. I use every technique available to me to get to that point but I always try to end up with a tree that I can see outside in the mountains, valets and even the fields. I should stipulate that what I mean is that I try to make trees that are nice trees in nature. Yes, I realise that many trees in nature are a mess but I am not talking about those. You have seen many trees that are lovely-again look at the trees in my books which I photograph in Nature and you will see and hopefully, agree with me.
That was what Kitamura was trying to do. He wanted to make small trees not ornamental shrubs with spectacular trunks and little else to say ’I am a tree’

Article by Craig Coussins on Dan Robinson.

There was a Bonsai Master in Japan in the mid 20th century . His name was Kitamura. He had a small but important school and his philosophy was to buy Bonsai , deconstruct these and create a more natural tree image. Far too many wonderful and well know Bonsai are artifice. They are indeed beautiful but they do not look like trees.

What Dan Robinson does at one end of the spectrum is allow a tree to develop naturally with some controls as to the shape. However, what Dan does is collect very old Yamadori that he keeps alive and just allows these to continue in style along the lines from which it was growing naturally. Dan can crate a Bonsai in as accepted a style as any other experienced master but he tries to retain the natural image of the collected tree. Based on his methodology of the age of these Yamadori, some are in excess of 1000 years old. What in any ones name would you wish to do to a tree that was already a dwarfed by nature tree other than appreciate the image of the tree itself.

I have many Yamadori as do many growers, but many of the trees that we collected need forming , branches need to be grown, buds developed and at last we can see the tree in the wood. Just look at some of my books and you will see what I mean. Branches on great trunks may be long whippy things and I need to inarch and graft, bend and shape the branch into an acceptable (to me as the artist) shape of a tree in nature. Not a highly sculpted shape that bears little resemblance to what I am used to IN MY AREA. And that is the key. I create trees that I am comfortable with. Trees that I see around me.

When I teach in other countries I create trees that I see in that area. . I try to make the image into a tree. I use every technique available to me to get to that point but I always try to end up with a tree that I can see outside in the mountains, valets and even the fields. I should stipulate that what I mean is that I try to make trees that are nice trees in nature. Yes, I realise that many trees in nature are a mess but I am not talking about those. You have seen many trees that are lovely-again look at the trees in my books which I photograph in Nature and you will see and hopefully, agree with me.

That was what Kitamura was trying to do. He wanted to make small trees not ornamental shrubs with spectacular trunks and little else to say ’I am a tree’  (By Craig Coussins)

(c) Will Hiltz Nara Publishers
(c) Will Hiltz Nara Publishers

In Hawaii they call it “mana.” In Japan it is known as “ki.” This is the life force contained within man, animals and the plant world. It is the reason why the power of touch is healing. Those who possess such a touch along with an artistic bent and an innate respect for the natural world have the ability to create great beauty.

Dan Robinson is such a person. His gentle hands sculpt, nurture, caress and coax tiny and sometimes wizened bonsai trees into delicate works of art. His life force connects with the trees and they respond.  Now, with his new book “Gnarly Branches, Ancient Trees” Dan is sharing his creations, and a good portion of his life, with the world. Follow the pages as the “Tree Guy” reminisces about his early days when his life force was new, but untrained. Discover the artist behind the art, the philosophies of a man arguably more in tune with trees than with fellow humans. Follow him as he searches for new trees in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest and brings them back to be part of his seven acre Elanden Gardens.

Dan views each of his bonsai trees as an independent spirit. He respects the mana of the tree and understands that by caring for and respecting that tree, it will return the favor by putting it best “trunk” forward. Proper bonsai form is sometimes trumped by a tree’s penchant to grow a certain way, creating something more beautiful than the artist might imagine. Sometimes the tree knows best.

Within the pages of “Gnarly Branches, Ancient Trees” are stunning photographs of bonsai trees that have been nurtured to perfection. Some are older than the artist, but in a tree’s world, that is still young. At times it might be hard to tell whether Dan or the trees take center stage in the book. Since they have shared their life force to create such beauty, there really is no difference. This is not only a charmingly told tale about a man and his trees and the ancient art of bonsai, it is a love story. (Review by Monica Wachmann)

This above pre-release reviews were based on limited information received from the Publishers ‘Nara Press’. We have been invited to do a full review after the book is published in early October. We would like to thank Will Hiltz, The Author, Chief Photographer and Publisher of ‘Gnarley Branches, Ancient Trees’ for permission to use these images.

So as they say ‘Watch this space” for more book reviews.


Zen and three friends of winter

In Japan, rock gardens were created by Zen Buddhist priests to offer a place for quiet reflection near Japanese temples. Several features are essential to these gardens; a typical garden will contain a water element, boulders, a gravel sand area reminiscent of the seashore, and plantings – often a combination of bamboo, plums and pine, called the “three friends of winter.”

Pine (shou) showing brilliant green in the bleakest of winter. Pine have been as a symbol of long life in China since ancient times.

Pine (shou) showing brilliant green in the bleakest of winter. Pine have been as a symbol of long life in China since ancient times.

Bamboo (chiku) another plant that stays mostly green throughout the winter. The stalk of the bamboo is hollow, that symbolizes tolerance and open-mindedness.

Plum (bai) show a beautiful elegance during the bleakness of a hostile winter. The character of the plum tree serves as a metaphor for inner beauty and humble display under these extreme conditions.

If you don’t have space for a full-sized Japanese garden, you can create one in miniature: bonsai ponds can be made to fit a very small space. A water garden following Zen design principles is a simple do-it-yourself project, as any watertight containers can be made into bonsai ponds. Start with one container large enough to house all the elements of your project and a smaller container for the pond. You will also need a small aquarium pump to aerate the water. Ready-grown “three friends of winter” bonsai and the supplies and instructions to maintain them are available online. You can buy rocks, sand, and gravel at your local aquarium or home improvement store.

Arrange your garden according to the following Zen aesthetic principles: kanso, or simplicity; fukinsei, or asymmetry; shibui, or minimalism; shizen, natural materials; yugen, surprise or revelation; datsuzoku, or a sense of wonder; and seijaku, or tranquility. Fill your small container with water and place it on one side of the garden container; this will be your pond. To prevent the water from stagnating, conceal the aquarium pump in the garden to aerate the water – you can even arrange the pump outlet to create a waterfall over your rocks, if you like. To satisfy the principle of shizen, make sure any artificial elements are well hidden, for example you can use natural stone and gravel both to hide the edges of the water container and to create a shoreline around the water’s edge. Opposite the pond, arrange the “three friends of winter” bonsai with the larger rocks, surrounded by more gravel and sand: this balance between the pond and plantings will create asymmetry, or fukinsei. Make sure to place a few rocks in such a way that they may be hidden or may hide other elements that to offer surprises, or yugen.

No matter the size, a Japanese Zen garden will offer a peaceful haven from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Your own Japanese garden


This is an architecture design map or outline garden plan of Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion) in Kyoto. It is called choukanzuhou, "a bird's-eye view" or fukanzuhou, "view from abovHow to go about when you are caught by the beauty of a Japanese garden and you have decided that this is what you want?

Japanese gardens are a living work of art in which the plants and trees are ever changing with the seasons. As they grow and mature they are constantly sculpted to maintain and enhance the overall experience. Hence a Japanese garden is never the same and never really finished. While the underlying structure is determined by the architecture, that is the framework of enduring elements, such as buildings, veranda’s and terraces, paths, tsukiyama (artificial hills) and stone compositions, over time it is only as good as the careful maintenance that it receives by those skilled in the art of training and pruning.

If a major reason for having a Japanese garden is the quick and easy construction or the little maintenance that it needs then you have been fooled and probably read the wrong advice, perhaps on one of the many poor quality websites. It is beyond imagination to see how much discussable information is written on the Web on the subject of Japanese gardens and gardening. And that is perhaps the best prove that constructing your own Japanese garden is not as straightforward as some authors want you to believe. There are dozens of brilliant and good books on the subject. There are also plenty of poor books on the subject. I have however never seen a book that comes even distantly close and is as bad as some publications on the Web. There are also a few quality sites but you need a candle-light to find them.

Often the terms Japanese garden and Zen garden are used as synonyms and interchangeable. Well they are not. The designs of medieval gardens in Japan was ultimately derived from Chinese landscape art. The influence of Zen-Buddhism on garden design was (probably) first described as such in 1935 by Kuck (Kuck, Loraine (1968, 1984) in ‘The World of the Japanese Garden – From Chinese Origins to Modern Landscape Art’ (John Weatherhill, Inc. of New York and Tokyo. ISBN 0-8348-0029-2.) in the early 20th century and disputed by Kuitert (Kuitert, Wybe (1988). ‘Scenes and Taste in the History of Japanese Garden Art’ ( J.C.Gieben, Publisher, Amsterdam. ISBN 0-5063-021-9) by the end of that century. It took until the nineteen fifties that the concepts of a garden as an expression of Zen was first described in the Japanese language by Shinichi Hisamatsu in ‘seven characteristics’. And for sure these latter are very useful for us Westerners to better understand and realize a Japanese garden of any type. Mind you this is not to say that Japanese gardens are not influenced by Buddhism or Zen-Buddhism but that nowadays we see just too much esoteric explanations and interpretations brought into the Japanese garden mainly by Westerners.

The subject is a complex one and perhaps that is the reason for over-simplification by many writers. Building a Japanese, and actually any, garden does not start with selecting “Japanese” plants and trowing them on a plot together with a pile of ‘Oriental (looking) ornaments’ either made out of stone or plastic. This sounds a bit disrespectful. But then, is it not also disrespectful to call such a composition a Japanese or Zen garden ? If you like oriental ornaments and flowering sub-tropical plants you can design and build a very nice garden based on that theme. Just then do not call it a Japanese garden or confuse that with what you have. Instead call it an Oriental garden. Nothing wrong with that and no confusion caused.

The point is that although a garden can be Japanese, there is no definition of such a thing as the Japanese garden, because there are a number of very different Japanese garden types and styles. The term ‘Japanese garden’ is a common classification that applies to all Japanese garden types, regardless of style, located in Japan originally. The character of a garden is determined by its type and style. In addition many, of not most gardens in Japan, combine multiple types and styles. This is done by compartmentalization of a garden. Looking at a Zen-Buddhist temple-complex this is mostly composed of different garden types. It is important to observe that these different types are often combined but not mixed or amalgamated. Each garden compartment as such is kept pure and in accordance with its utilization and hence garden-type.

For you, assuming that we talk about a home-garden, it all starts with the question what is it that I like about it and what is a Japanese garden anyway ? If you want it to be a Japanese garden, and perhaps more specifically a Zen garden or Tea garden than stick to this concept. If you want a pond in your garden, with or without Koi-carp than you need yet a different type or combination.

Take as a model the creations left to us by the famous men of old and, considering the suggestions of the owner of the house (where the garden is to be made), one must create, exercising one’s own aesthetic senses.

From Sakuteiki, a Japanese garden book with rules and notes on garden making that dates back to the late seventeenth century. Its oldest title is Senzai Hishõ, “Secret Extracts on Gardens”, and was written nearly 1000 years ago. The oldest treatise known that addresses gardening as an aesthetic art.

To answer the former questions you should follow the above centuries old advice.
Look at and study genuine Japanese gardens. Although there are some great Japanese gardens outside Japan these are relatively scarce and one should be reluctant and selective to use these as a point of reference, at least initially. For this purpose it is best to first stick with gardens located in Japan. Until ten years back one had to either travel to Japan or get a few good books. Nowadays there is an abundance of good photo’s available on the Web and many authentic gardens located in Japan even have their own Website some of them even offer you a virtual interactive tour.

Then decide what you like most, be it a garden type, ornaments or objects and elements and scenes from different gardens, and what you would like to have as your own Japanese garden. This will become the source of inspiration to design your own garden, not to copy it. Then the next step has everything to do with feasibility. Many questions should be asked and answered to satisfaction. Obviously this has to do everything with the available budget or at least what you are willing to spend on your garden, now or perhaps in stages. Perhaps the next factor is location and surroundings. What garden architecture does best fit and take advantage of the surrounding while satisfying your needs ? And do not forget the practical side of your garden, the different purposes for which you want to use it. And so on. Your own Japanese garden should start as lines and text on paper, no more but definitely no less. Planning it over one weekend ? You must be joking.

Description of image above:

This is an architecture design map or outline garden plan of Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion) in Kyoto. It is called choukanzuhou, “a bird’s-eye view” or fukanzuhou, “view from above”.


Piet Patings, Tsubo-en Zen-garden, www.zen-garden.org


International Festival of Bonsai

A must see event if you are near Burgundy on the 9′ or 10′ of October is the ‘International Festival of Bonsai’. This is the first time that this event is taking place and one of the key attractions is the private collection of Bonsai artist ‘Danny Use’. Other Bonsai artists attending will be, Olivier Barreau, Angel Mota, Jean-François Busquet, Frédéric Chenal, Thierry Font, François Gau, François Jeker, Salvatore Liporace, John Pitt, Gilles Rigal, Alfredo Salaccione and the Japanese Bonsai master Yuji Akanuma.
Dates:
9th & 10th October 2010
Place:
Saulieu (21) parc des expositions
Public Opening hours:
Saturday 9th October 10 am – 7 pm
Sunday 10th October 10 am – 6 pm Price:
Visitors tickets :
Two-day ticket :. €12
Pre-purchased two-day ticket available until September 17th : € 8
Sunday ticket : € 8
Kids under 12 are free.
http://www.festival-bonsai.com/shop.php
Directions
Via A6 direction south: exit at Avallon/Saulieu by RN
Via A6 direction north: exit at Saulieu
Parc des Expositions, Rue Jean Bertin, 21210 SAULIEU
GPS: Latitude: 47.2796192 – Longitude: 4.2293574

bonsai-festivalA must see event if you are near Burgundy on the 9′ or 10′ of October is the ‘International Festival of Bonsai’. This is the first time that this event is taking place and one of the key attractions is the private collection of Bonsai artist ‘Danny Use’. Other Bonsai artists attending will be, Olivier Barreau, Angel Mota, Jean-François Busquet, Frédéric Chenal, Thierry Font, François Gau, François Jeker, Salvatore Liporace, John Pitt, Gilles Rigal, Alfredo Salaccione and the Japanese Bonsai master Yuji Akanuma.

Dates:

9th & 10th October 2010

Place:

Saulieu (21) parc des expositions

Public Opening hours:

Saturday 9th October 10 am – 7 pm

Sunday 10th October 10 am – 6 pm

Visitors tickets :

Two-day ticket :. €12

Pre-purchased two-day ticket available until September 17th : € 8

Sunday ticket : € 8

Kids under 12 are free.

To Buy Tickets

Directions:

Via A6 direction south: exit at Avallon/Saulieu by RN

Via A6 direction north: exit at Saulieu

Parc des Expositions, Rue Jean Bertin, 21210 SAULIEU

GPS: Latitude: 47.2796192 – Longitude: 4.2293574

Bonsai Beautiful Journey

Have you ever wondered what went into creating that piece of living art known as a bonsai? How the precise cutting and trimming and tying kept a tiny tree, just that, tiny?

Craig Coussins has travelled to many countries teaching the art of bonsai. In between these journeys he has managed to find time to write a series of practical books, among them “Bonsai for Beginners”, “Bonsai Master Class”, “Bonsai School and the “Practical Guide to Growing Bonsai: A Guide to the Art of Shaping, Growing and Caring for Miniature Trees and Shrubs”.

Bonsai for Beginners
Bonsai for Beginners

Combining photos and text, Mr. Coussins covers such topics as proper watering, soil requirements, how to repot bonsai trees and how to prune both the branches and the in some cases delicate root structure.

In “Bonsai for Beginners” there is also a step by step section, including photos, on how to turn a cascade style bonsai, where the branches and leaves grow down and below the lip of the pot, into an upright tree by carefully turning the tree upside down. This is more for advanced growers, but it is something to work up to. Other parts of the book focus on the more elementary steps of bonsai. This particular book has over 450 photos throughout its pages, covering a variety of plant species. Some are inspirational photographs of finished bonsais; others are to lead you in your step by step journey through the process.
“Bonsai School” is equally endowed with hundreds of photos along with instructions and a calendar to help you keep track of what needs done when on your bonsai. Various bonsai tree artists from around the world are included in the book, each sharing techniques and pointers of the craft.

Whether you choose “Bonsai for Beginners” or “Bonsai School”, or any of Craig Coussins’ other books, you will gain an in-depth knowledge of the elegantly fascinating art of bonsai gardening. Through his photos and his novel like, easy flowing text, you just might find that trying to turn a tiny tree into a living, breathing, sculptured work of art is something you just can’t wait to try. Go for it, and bring a little bit of cultivated Mother Nature into your world.

Growing Palms

sagopalmbonsaiEverybody recognises palm trees, they are the universal symbol for the tropics but many are hardy enough for our temperate climate gardens. Until recently New Zealand gardeners have had only a very limited range of palms to choose from. In the last five years the range has grown enormously as nurseries have been encouraged by gardeners eager to experiment.
Nevertheless, palms are, on the whole, slightly tender plants. Those that will tolerate regular frosts of -6°C. or more are few in number. If your minimum temperature does not drop below -2°C or if you are in a frost free area the range of suitable plants increases considerably.

There are two main styles of palms; the fan and the feather. The names refer to the layout of the fronds. Fan palms have the leaflets of the frond arranged just like a hand operated fan. The most widely grown fan palm is Trachycarpus fortunei, the Chinese Fan Palm. Feather palms have the leaflets of their fronds arranged along a rigid midrib like a bird’s feather. The most commonly grown feather palm is Phoenix canariensis, the Canary Island Date Palm.
Palms are extremely important plants to the world’s economy. The true date palm or commerce, Phoenix dactylifera, is rarely seen in New Zealand but is the most common commercially grown palm. The coconut, Cocos nucifera, is not far behind. Possibly more significant than fruit crops is the use of palms for shelter. Virtually every tropical third world village relies on palms as a roofing material.

Siting
Although palms are associated with sun and sand most species appreciate light shade when young. Shelter from wind is important if the fronds are to look their best but as the plants eventually become quite large they will eventually have to tolerate exposure to sun and wind.
When siting a palm remember to take into account the spread of the crown. This is not so significant with a mature plant as the crown is usually well above most obstructions. The problem is adolescent plants, which tend to have much the same spread as adults without the height. They take up a considerable area until the trunk begins to develop.

Soil conditions
Palms generally do best in a rich, moist well-drained soil. They have fairly strong roots that anchor them firmly. The roots of many palms can withstand a considerable amount of abuse, which enables the trees to be safely transplanted at almost any size.

Climate adaptability
Many palms are frost tender but there are quite a few that tolerate reasonably tough frosts. The best known are Phoenix canariensis and Trachycarpus fortunei but you should also consider Jubaea chilensis, Chamaerops humilis, Butia capitata, Washingtonia robusta and Brahea armata.
Palms often grow well in coastal conditions but benefit from occasional wash downs to remove any salt spray deposits.

Container growing
Palms often make superb container plants, both indoors and outdoors. Many are undemanding and tolerant of neglect. In cold areas it’s often best to keep young palms in containers until well established. That way they can be moved under cover for winter. Once they have a spread of over 1.5 m or so they should be hardy enough to plant out but if it’s not inconvenient it’s better to wait as long as possible.

Propagation
Palms are nearly always propagated by seed. They usually have only one growing point so vegetative propagation is not practical. Occasionally suckers form at the base of established plants and may be carefully removed for growing on but this is not a reliable method of propagation.
Palm seed varies greatly in its ease of germination. The most common problem is very hard seed coats. No amount of scarification or soaking will soften the toughest of them. Sometimes acid treatment is resorted to but patience is the usual method. Some, such as Butia capitata, may take upwards of a year in the soil before germination but eventually with the right combination of moisture, temperature and time they sprout.

Pests and diseases
Palms are not prone to any unusual pests or diseases. Frost damage is far more likely to the biggest problem.

Palm selection
Do not expect to find all of the species at your local garden centre; many of these palms are only available as seed. Unless otherwise stated all of these palms have panicles of small yellow flowers.

Archontophoenix
The King Palm (Archontophoenix alexandrae) is a prominent feature in many tropical and sub-tropical areas but it is too tender for all but the very far north. Archontophoenix cunninghamiana is a better bet but it still requires a near frost free climate with warm summers. It is a feather palm with long arching frond. It can reach 20 m high but rarely exceeds 7 m in New Zealand gardens. The flowers are followed by masses of small red berry-like fruit. Archontophoenix cunninghamiana may be grown indoors but it needs high light and humidity levels. The seeds germinate easily.

Arecastrum-see Syagrus
Arenga
Two species of this genera are suitable for growing outdoors in mild areas. Both are feather palms with broad leaves that have silvery undersides. Arenga pinnata requires near frost free conditions but Arenga engleri from Taiwan will tolerate infrequent light frosts. Both species have interesting flowering habits and fruit. Arenga pinnata is monocarpic; it dies after flowering although it takes at least ten years to reach maturity. Arenga engleri survives to flower again but the leaf stem beside the flower stalk dies. Both species have fruit with extremely caustic pulp. Both species are unlikely to exceed 3.5 m high under New Zealand conditions but Arenga pinnata may reach 18 m high in its native South East Asian region. Arenga pinnata seed germinates quickly and easily but Arenga engleri is erratic and may take several months to sprout. Not usually grown indoors.

Blue Palm-see Brahea
Brahea
These fan palms are becoming more common in New Zealand gardens. Both of the common species Mexican Blue Palm (Brahea armata) and Guadeloupe Palm (Brahea edulis), are reasonably hardy and adaptable plants. B. armata has beautiful, finely divided glaucous fronds. It is the hardier of the two and will withstand -8°C once established. It has a stocky trunk for many years but may eventually reach 12 m high. Brahea edulis is tender when young but withstands -6°C once the trunk is over 10-15 cm diameter. It grows slowly to about 15 m high. Both species are tolerant of drought and low humidity. Brahea armata has 12 mm diameter brown fruit, while Brahea edulis has edible 18 mm diameter blackish fruit. Grow in full sun. The germination of Brahea armata seed is very erratic and may take up to year. Brahea edulis is less tricky but still not very reliable. High light requirements make Brahea unsuitable for indoor cultivation.

Butia
The Yatay, Pindo Palm or Jelly Palm (Butia capitata) from Brazil is a hardy feather palm with long drooping olive to bluish green fronds. It will withstand -10°C once established and deserves to be more extensively grown. It grows to about 7 m high. The flowers are followed by yellow to red 25 mm diameter pulpy fruit. Grow in full sun. Seed germination is highly variable, it is unlikely to take less than two months and may be a year or more. High light requirements mean this palm is not very suitable for growing indoors. California palm-see Washingtonia

Canary Island date palm-see Phoenix

Caryota
The Fishtail Palm (Caryota mitis) is often grown as a house plant and is unlikely to grow well outdoors except in the very far north. Caryota urens has slightly lower heat requirements but will not tolerate any frost. It has very dark green, slightly arching fronds. All Caryota palms have intricately cut bipinnate feather fronds. Most species grow to large sizes (over 18 m high) in the tropics but are unlikely to exceed 8 m high under New Zealand conditions. They have fruit with caustic pulp that should not be handled with bare hands. The seed germinates easily. Caryota palms grow well indoors but prefer warmth and high humidity.

Chamaerops
The Mediterranean Fan Palm (Chamaerops humilis) is a bushy fan palm that is usually multi-trunked and will not exceed 6 m high. The trunks take many years to form and are seldom seen in gardens. Most plants grow to about 1.5 m high x 5 m wide. The fronds are tipped with sharp spines. It is a very hardy palm that tolerates -15°C. Tolerant of low humidity and drought. Grow in full sun. The seed germinate well and takes about six weeks to sprout. High light requirements and sharp spines make it unsuitable for indoor use.

Chilean wine palm-see Jubaea
Chinese fan palm-see Trachycarpus
Cocos
The Coconut Palm (Cocos nucifera) is one the most important commercial crops. It is essentially a tropical palm but will grow outdoors in frost free areas of the far north. It is a large feather palm that often develops a leaning trunk. It may grow to 30 m high in the tropics but rarely exceeds 8 m in gardens. The fruit seldom will not develop to its normal size in our climate but becomes large enough to be a conversation piece. Coconuts germinate well but take at least three months to sprout. They need consistent warmth and the whole nut must be planted, do not strip away the husk. May be grown indoors but resents cold draughts.

Date palm-see Phoenix
Euterpe
Although primarily a tropical plant the Assai Palm (Euterpe edulis) will grow outdoors in frost free areas with warm summers. It is a feather palm with arching fronds and graceful drooping leaflets. The trunk is improbably slim fro the size of the foliage head and may grow to 25 m high although it is unlikely to exceed 10 m high under New Zealand conditions. The fruit is black and about 12 mm diameter. The seeds germinate easily. May be grown indoors when young.

Fishtail palm-see Caryota
Howea
Very popular indoors but capable of growing outdoors in frost free areas, these palms were formerly classified as Kentia and are still widely known by that name. Two species, Howea belmoreana and Howea forsterana, are grown. Both are natives of Lord Howe Island. They are feather palms with deep green gracefully arching fronds and narrow trunks. Howea belmoreana grows to about 7 m high and Howea forsterana about 15 m high but both are unlikely to reach these sizes in New Zealand gardens. They have brown olive sized fruit that takes two years to ripen. Only very fresh seed will germinate and even then it is erratic. Both species need shade when young, which is why they perform well indoors.

Jubaea
The Chilean Wine Palm (Jubaea chilensis) is a hardy (-8°C) feather palm that should be more widely grown. It has deep green arching fronds and a very distinctive trunk. The trunk becomes greatly enlarged, rather like a baobab tree, so that when mature it may be up 2 m diameter. Within the trunk is a large reserve of sap, which may be tapped and fermented into an alcoholic drink, hence the name Wine Palm. This palm can grow to 20 m high or more but it takes many years to get above 10 m high. The 40 mm diameter fruit is yellow and the seed it contains germinates easily but takes about four months to sprout. May be grown indoors but has high light requirements.

Kentia-see Howea
Lady palm-see Rhapis
Livistona
These fan palms are native to South East Asia and Australia. Two species, Livistona australis and Livistona chinensis, are suitable for growing outdoors in mild areas. They are very similar to one another. Both have deep green spiny fronds with leaflets that droop and fray at the tips. They have quite solidly built trunks that grow to about 12-15 m high. Under New Zealand conditions it takes many years for them to reach 10 m high. Both species are hardy to about -5°C when well-established. Livistona australis has 18 mm diameter reddish fruit and Livistona chinensis has 25 mm diameter green fruit. The seed of both species germinates easily and quickly. May be grown as house plants but they have high light requirements.

Nikau-see Rhopalostylis
Palmetto-see Sabal
Phoenix
The Canary Island Date Palm is by far the most common feather palm grown in New Zealand gardens. It has deep green arching fronds and a trunk studded with bases of old fronds. When young, the trunk tends to be quite bulbous but as it gains height it becomes more tree-like. A mature tree may be up to 18 m high and have a very solid trunk. The fruit is about 40 mm diameter and yellowish orange. Phoenix dactylifera is the true ‘Date Palm’ of commerce that is such a well-known symbol of North Africa and the Middle East. It has shorter fronds in a less dense head than Phoenix canariensis. It is much taller when mature, up to 25 m high. Both Phoenix canariensis and Phoenix dactylifera will withstand -8°C when established but should not be exposed to hard frosts until the have a short trunk. Phoenix dactylifera needs hot summers to grow well and is unlikely to produce edible dates in a cool summer climate.
A third species, the Pygmy Date Palm (Phoenix roebelinii) is considerably less hardy but it can be grown outdoors in frost free areas. It is frequently used as a container plant as it only grows to about 3 m high. There are several other species that would be suitable for growing in New Zealand gardens but they are rarely seen . Among those most likely to do well are Phoenix loureiri, Phoenix rupicola and Phoenix sylvestris. All Phoenix palm seeds germinates quickly and easily. All species make excellent house plants when young.

Queen palm-see Syagrus.
Rhapidophyllum
The Needle Palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix) is native to the south eastern United States. It is a hardy fan palm that remains low growing and bushy. The olive green fronds have sharp spines on the petioles and the tips of the leaflets are also sharp. It grows into a multi-trunked clump about 1.5 m high x 4 m wide. Makes a vicious, nearly impenetrable hedge. It is hardy to about -12°C but requires constant warm summer temperatures to grow well. Has 18 mm long green oval fruit, the seeds from which germinate erratically. Grow in full sun. Its spines make it unsuitable as a house plant.

Rhapis
The Lady palms are multi-trunked fan palms that are hardy to about -3°C when established but require warm summers to grow well. Two very similar species are grown, Lady Palm (Rhapis excelsa) and Slender Lady Palm (Rhapis humilis). They have small fronds on fibre covered bamboo-like canes. They form dense bushy clumps to about 4 m high with foliage to ground level. Rhapis excelsa has 12 mm diameter green fruit and grows quickly and easily from seed. Rhapis humilis does not produce seed and may not be a true species. It is grown from basal suckers. Both species are excellent house plants that tolerate low light levels and neglect.

Rhopalostylis
This genus is most commonly represented in gardens by our only native palm, the Nikau (Rhopalostylis sapida), but also includes Rhopalostylis baueri, which is a similar species from Norfolk Island. Sometimes known as Shaving Brush palms because of the prominent bulge beneath the foliage head both species are elegant feather palms that grow to about 8 m high under garden conditions although Rhopalostylis baueri can reach 15 m high or more in the wild. Both species tolerate only light frosts. Rhopalostylis sapida grows well in cool climates provided they are nearly frost free but Rhopalostylis baueri needs steady summer warmth. Both species have 18 mm diameter red fruit. Seed germinates reliably but may take over three months to sprout. Seedlings are slow growing and need shade. Good house plants when young.

Sabal
The Palmetto palms are native to the southeastern United States and Mexico. They are fan palms and often have large fronds. Two species are readily available. Sabal minor and Sabal palmetto. They are among the smaller species: Sabal minor is a bushy, often multi-trunked and grows to about 3.5 m high while Sabal palmetto is more tree-like but rarely exceeds 7 m high. S. minor has glaucous fronds. Both species are hardy to about -6°C once established and both have 12 mm diameter black fruit. The seed germinates quickly and easily. There are several other species worthy of trying but they are seldom available. Of these Sabal domingensis is the most distinctive as it can grow to 25 m high. Sabal mexicana and Sabal uresana are also tree sized. S. uresana has silver grey fronds and is very drought tolerant. These palms have high light requirements and are unlikely to be good house plants except for conservatories.

the_saw_palmSeranoa
The Saw Palmetto (Seranoa repens) is bushy fan palm native to Florida. It grows into a clump about 2.5 m high x 4 m wide, often multi-trunked. The fronds are silvery grey to glaucous with sharp tipped leaflets. Hardy to about -4°C. Grow in full sun. The fruit is oval, about 18 mm long and black. The seed germinates well but may take a few months to sprout. Can also be grown from suckers. High light requirements would probably limit this species as a house plant.

Syagrus
The Queen Palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana [syn. Arecastrum romanzoffiana]), is frequently seen as a street tree in tropical and sub-tropical cities. This Brazilian native has very long finely divided arching plumose fronds that move in the slightest breeze. It has a slender trunk that can reach 18 m high but is unlikely to exceed 10 m under New Zealand conditions. Hardy to -5°C when mature but needs protection from frosts until about 1.5 m high with a good crown. Also needs warm summers to grow well. Has yellow fruit about 25 mm in diameter and 18 mm long seeds that germinate quickly and easily. It makes a good house plant when young but needs bright light and humidity.

Trachycarpus
The Chinese Fan Palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) is probably the hardiest of the tree-like palms. It will tolerate -12°C from a young age. The fronds are deep green and quite luxuriant on young plants grown in the shade but they rapidly deteriorate in full sun and strong wind. The trunk is covered in fibre and the bases of old fronds and may be up to 12 m high. The small 12 mm diameter grape-like fruit is bluish with a grey bloom. The seed germinates quickly and easily. As this palm prefers shade when young it makes a good house plant when young. There are other species worth growing, such as the very dwarf Trachycarpus nanus, but they are seldom available.

Washingtonia
These palms are synonymous with Southern California. They are fan palms with very straight trunks. Two species are grown, one Californian (Washingtonia filifera) and the other Mexican (Washingtonia robusta). Washingtonia filifera can grow to 20 m high and is quite stocky. Washingtonia robusta, which is sometimes called Sky Duster, has a very narrow trunk and may reach 30 m high or more. Under New Zealand conditions they are slow growing and unlikely to reach such impressive dimensions. The fronds have long petioles for fan palms. Both species will survive -6°C once established but need summer heat to grow well. Both have 18 mm diameter fruit that is reddish green when ripe. Both species appreciate light shade when young. The seed germinates quickly and easily. May be grown as house plants until too large to remain inside.

A Stroll through French Gardens

Paris has often been referred to as the “city of lights” but it could very well deserve the title “city of gardens.”   From the much visited Jardin du Luxembourg to the understated elegance of UNESCO’s Japanese Gardens, the city of Paris displays a very versatile green thumb.

jardin_de_luxembourg - © Vit Kovalcik - Fotolia.com

The Jardin de Luxembourg is one of Paris’ most visited parks. It is located in the 6th Arrondissement (Metro stop: Odeon; RER: Luxeumborg). Created in the 1600s, it was not open to the public until the 19th century. The garden was a favorite haunt of the then starving writer Ernest Hemingway not only because of its beauty but because it was known for its extremely well fed pigeons.  More than a few ended up on his dinner table during his leaner years.

The gardens follow the classic French tradition of being formally laid out with plants and trees set out in precise patterns.  There is a central water feature leading up to the Medici Fountain, named after the garden’s founder Marie de Medicis, widow of Henry IV.  Urns and statuary, many on pedestals, frame the walkways on either side of the water basin. The garden is both adult and kid friendly. Children are encouraged to sail toy boats on the water, take pony rides and watch puppet shows.

The most famous sculpture sits at the southern tip of the Jardin du Luxembourg in a part also known as the Jardin Marco Polo.  The “Fountain of the Observatory” or “Fountain of the Four Corners of the World” is an elaborate structure that combined the talents of four artists in its creation.  The bronze fountain features the carved pedestal by Louis Vuillemot, the globe and its zodiac designed equator from Pierre Legrain and the horses, fish and turtles by Emmanuel Fremiet. Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux crafted the four nude ladies.

Now we travel from the beautifully elaborate to the simplistically divine. UNESCO’s Japanese Gardens are located at the United Nations’ headquarters in the 7th Arrondissement (METRO stop: Segur/Ecole Militaire).  The gardens were designed in 1958 by Isamu Nogushi and are known as the “Garden of Peace.”  Refurbished in 1999 -2000 by Toemon Sano who stayed true to the original layout, the gardens cover 1,700 square metres. The garden features cherry and plum trees, bamboo, magnolias, a pond and stream and a sunken centre garden area done in the dry Karesausui traditional form.

Other countries are represented by gifts or with memorials within the garden. The Canadian government made a gift of a bench carved from one giant cedar tree from British Columbia.  Recently an olive tree was planted as part of memorial to Yitzak Rabin, the assassinated prime minister of Israel. One of the garden’s treasures is a carved angel’s head that was brought over from Nagasaki, Japan.  It survived the atomic bomb dropped in 1945.

These are but two of the many green spaces found throughout Paris. It is fitting that a city so vibrant, so alive and so culturally diverse should show equal diversity in the design of its gardens.  They are inviting locales for impromptu picnics, rendezvous with smiling lovers or just getting out and taking a walk in the sun. Parisians enjoy their open spaces and visitors are encouraged to join them.

Edo, Japanese Garden Transformation

The strategically situated castle town of Edo, destined to become modern day Tokyo, was the seat of power for the Tokugawa Shogunate from 1603 to 1868.  Following nearly a century and a half of war known as the Sengoku period, the Edo period welcomed a much needed period of social harmony.

This change in mental attitude also signified change in the purpose of the many castles that dotted the Japanese landscape.  Rather than having a primary purpose of defence, these elaborately built structures became luxurious homes for the daimyo, or feudal lords and more attention could be paid to aesthetics. Elaborate Japanese gardens became a must have for residents of these lavishly furnished homes that became symbols of power and wealth.

Gardens constructed in the Edo period often centered around the Japanese tea ceremony which became an important part of local culture during this era.  Known as Chianwa gardens, they usually consisted of a water feature, either a stream or pond, crossed by small bridges or stepping stones that would lead to a simply constructed tea house.  Stone basins would be provided for guests to purify themselves before participating in the ceremony.  Gardens would also be constructed in the waterless Karesausui style, of Zen Buddhist origins and the Tsukiyami garden style which creates, with great accuracy, depictions of actual landscapes found throughout Japan and China.

zen © marilyn barbone

One of the surviving Tokyo gardens from this period is the Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens, created in 1629 by Yorifusa Mita, the Daimyo of the Mito Tokugawa family of that time period.  Meticulously tended and expanded over the years, the current garden consists of wandering pathways through gates, across stone and wooded bridges and around a central pond studded with islands.  The Cultural Properties Protection Law of Japan has listed the garden as a Special Historic Site.

Though the capital of Edo was the center of this societal evolution, the influence of the Edo period expanded beyond its borders. The city of Kyoto is home to Manshu-in, a Tendai temple in the north eastern sector of the city.  The temple’s main hall dates from the early Edo period and features a Waterfall Room decorated with slides by Kano Tanyu (1602-1674).   The same artist also created a Mont Fuji Room, a Snowy Scenes Room, a tea room and a Twilight Room, complete with royal throne.  All are decorated with an assortment of screens, prints and paintings. The garden is done in the Karesausui, or waterless style and features an island bound 400 year old Japanese white pine.

Another Kyoto treasure is the Shisen-do Buddhist temple.  The temple was established in 1641 by Ishikawa Jozan (1583-1672) and is also registered as a historic site of Japan. The main temple has a room displaying portraits of thirty six Chinese poets, painted by Kano Tanyu. This room is part of the original structure.

The gardens reflect the Tsukiyami style.  It makes use of an ingenious water feature known as a sozu, designed to scare off wild animals.  Using a simple bamboo tube, the device gradually fills with water and then tips when the liquid reaches a preset level.  The water is discharged and the tube pivots upright to strike a strategically placed rock that makes a loud clapping noise.  Such creativity is a reflection of the Japan’s cultural growth that has its beginnings in the post war, relatively peaceful Edo period of this country’s rich and varied history.

Flowering Cherry

While the briefness of their glory has to be acknowledged, cherries really are the hardy spring-flowering trees for temperate climate gardens. I can think of no others, apart from their close Prunus relatives and some of the magnolias that even come close to rivalling flowering cherries for sheer weight of bloom and vibrance of colour.
The genus Prunus, to which the cherries, plums, almonds, apricots and peaches belong, includes around 430 species spread over much of the northern temperate regions and has a toehold in South America. Although including a few evergreen species, such as the well-known cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus), the genus is mainly deciduous and generally hardy to the frosts likely to occur in most New Zealand gardens.
The genus Prunus is widely recognised as being divided into 5 or 6 subgenera, though some botanists prefer to recognise these as distinct genera. The subgenus cerasus is the one to which the cherries belong. This group includes a wide variety of species, many of which are not highly ornamental. The species which are of most interest to gardeners are the Chinese and Japanese cherries, not only because they tend to be the most attractive, but also because they tend to be reasonably compact, often have attractive autumn foliage as well as spring flowers and because centuries of development in oriental gardens have produced countless beautiful cultivars.
The Japanese recognise two main groups of flowering cherries: the mountain cherries or yamazakura and the temple or garden cherries, the satozakura. The mountain cherries, which tend to have simple flowers, are largely derived from the original Mountain Cherry (Prunus serrulata var. spontanea), Prunus subhirtella and Prunus incisa. They are mainly cultivated for their early-blooming habit, which is just as well because their rather delicate display would be overwhelmed by the flamboyance of the garden cherries.
The garden cherries are the result of much hybridisation, mostly unrecorded, so we can’t be exactly sure of their origins. Prunus serrulata (in its lowland form) and Prunus subhirtella also feature largely in their background. The other major influences are Prunus sargentii, Prunus speciosa, Prunus apetala and possibly the widespread Bird Cherries (Prunus avium and Prunus padus). The result of these old hybrids and modern developments is the wealth of forms that burst into bloom in our gardens every spring.
Regretfully, that complex parentage and those centuries of development and countless cultivars combined with Western misunderstandings of Japanese names and multiple introductions of the same plants under different names has led to considerable confusion with the names of flowering cherries.
Most of the popular garden plants are lumped together under three general headings:
1. Prunus subhirtella cultivars and hybrids;
2. Sato-zakura hybrids;
3. Hybrids no longer listed under parent species, being instead regarded as just to difficult to classify in that way.
But however you view them, flowering cherries have so much to offer that a little confusion over naming and identification shouldn’t stand in the way of your including them in your garden. And now that many of them are available as container-grown plants that can be bought in flower, it’s really just a matter of choosing the flowers you like.
Nevertheless, it’s nice to know exactly which plant you’re dealing with, so that you can be sure of its performance and size. While most of the larger nurseries and garden centres take care to supply plants that are true to type, make sure on first flowering that your cherries match their label descriptions. Misidentification, or perhaps misrepresentation, is common.
Plants
Prunus subhirtella cultivars and hybrids
Although the flowers of Prunus subhirtella are usually small and fairly simple, they appear from early winter well into spring, depending on the cultivar. Not only that, the cultivars themselves are long-flowering, often being in bloom for three weeks to a month. There are many cultivars, but most are similar to, or forms of the two main types listed below.
‘Autumnalis’ ( ‘Jugatsu Sakura’)
This is the most reliable winter-flowering form. It often starts to bloom in late April to early May and can carry flowers right through until mid September. It seldom produces a massive burst of bloom, rather sporadic clusters of flowers. This is just as well because the flowers are damaged by heavy frosts. The flowers of ‘Autumnalis’ are white to pale pink opening from pink buds; those of ‘Autumnalis Rosea’ are the same but with a deep pink centre.
‘Pendula’ (‘Ito Sakura’)
Prunus autumnalis tends to have weeping branches and ‘Pendula’ is a cultivar that emphasises this feature. Its flowers are usually pale pink and open in late winter to early spring. ‘Falling Snow’ is a cultivar with pure white flowers, while those of ‘Rosea’ are deep pink.
Sato-zakura hybrids
‘Fugenzo’ ( ‘Shirofugen’ )
‘Fugenzo’ was one of the first, if not the first, Japanese cherry to be grown in European gardens. It ‘s origins can be traced back to at least the 15th century. Its flowers are white to very pale pink, opening from pink buds, and when fully open how two conspicuous green leaf-like pistils in the centre of the flower.
‘Taihaku’
‘Taihaku’ , also known as the great white cherry, has white flowers up to 5cm across. It grows to at least 8m tall with a wider spread and its flowers open at the same time as its bronze foliage expands, making a pleasant contrast. Thought to have been lost to cultivation, this cultivar was identified in Sussex garden from an old Japanese print.
‘Ukon’
Although ‘Ukon’ mean yellowish, this cultivar has very distinctive pale green flowers and is one of the few unmistakable cherries. Its foliage develops purplish tones in autumn. The unusual flower colour contrasts well with the likes of ‘Sekiyama’.
‘Amanogawa’ (‘Erecta’)
‘Amanogawa’ grows to around 6m tall, but only around 1.5m wide, and has pale pink single flowers with a freesia-like scent. It blooms in mid-spring and in autumn the foliage develops striking yellow and red tones.
‘Shogetsu’ (‘Shugetsu’, ‘Shimidsu-zakura’)
‘Shogetsu’ flowers late and produces pendant clusters of white, double flowers that open from pink buds. The flower clusters are up to 15cm long, which makes a tree in full bloom an arresting sight, especially considering that ‘Shogetsu’ is not a large tree and that its weeping habit means it can be covered in bloom right down to the ground.
‘Sekiyama’ (‘Kanzan’)
Certainly among the most popular cherries and most often sold under the name ‘Kanzan’, ‘Sekiyama’ has a relatively narrow, upright growth habit when young but eventually develops into a spreading 12m tall tree. Its flowers, which are pink and very fully double, are carried in pendulous clusters of five blooms. They open from reddish-pink buds. The foliage has a slight red tint.
‘Ariake’ (‘Dawn’, ‘Candida’)
This cultivar grows to about 6m tall and flowers in spring as the foliage develops. The young leaves are a deep bronze shade that contrasts well with white to very pale pink flowers.
‘Kiku-shidare’ (‘Shidare Sakura’)
‘Kiku-shidare’ is similar in flower to ‘Sekiyama’, but it has a weeping growth habit. It is a small tree and is often smothered in bloom from the topmost branches down to near ground level. The flowers can each have up to 50 petals.
‘Pink Perfection’
‘Pink Perfection’ was introduced in 1935 by the famous English nursery Waterer Sons and Crisp. It is a probable ‘Sekiyama’ × ‘Shogetsu’ hybrid and has flowers that show characteristics of both parents; the clustered blooms of ‘Shogetsu’ and the pink of ‘Sekiyama’. The flowers are very fully double and the young foliage is coppery.
‘Kofugen’
‘Kofugen’ has graceful semi-weeping branches and a fairly compact growth habit. Its flowers are not really single but semi-double, though the two whorls of petals are flat rather than ruffled, so the effect is not that easy to see.
‘Shirotae’ (‘Mt. Fuji’)
This beautiful tree has a spreading growth habit that in the best specimens shows distinctly tiered branches. Its flowers, which are white and semi-double on mature plants, start to open before the foliage expands. They are pleasantly scented.
‘Takasago’
Although possibly a Prunus × sieboldii cultivar, ‘Takasago’ is now more widely listed under the satozakura cherries. It bears clusters of semi-double pink flowers with bronze-red new foliage.
‘Ojochin’ (‘Senriko’)
This tree, rather squat when young, but eventually 7m tall bears single white flowers in such profusion as to give the impression of double blooms. Opening from pink buds, the flowers are up to 5cm in diameter and among the later to bloom. ‘Ojochin’ means large lantern, which aptly describes the shape of the flowers.
Other hybrids, species and their cultivars
‘Accolade’
One of the most popular of all garden cherries, ‘Accolade’ is a Prunus sargentii × Prunus subhirtella hybrid that develops into a flat-topped small tree. In spring it is smothered in pendulous clusters of large, bright pink, semi-double flowers.
Yoshino cherry (Prunus × yedoensis)
Well-known as an avenue tree, this Prunus subhirtella × Prunus speciosa hybrid is smothered in white to very pale pink blooms in spring before or as the new leaves develop. When the flowers are spent they form drifts of fallen petals around the base of the tree. There are several cultivars, such as the pink-flowered ‘Akebono’, the pale pink ‘Awanui’ and a weeping form (‘Shidare Yoshino’ or ‘Pendula’).
Taiwan cherry (Prunus campanulata)
The Taiwan cherry is valued for its early-flowering habit and fiery autumn foliage. The flowers, which are usually a vivid deep pink, are heavy with nectar and very popular with birds. Taiwan cherry is rather frost tender, though once established it grows well in most coastal areas.
‘Okame’
Introduced in 1947 by the British authority Collingwood Ingram, ‘Okame’ is a hybrid between the Taiwan cherry and the Fuji cherry (Prunus incisa). It is usually quite hardy, though this appears to be variable, and it flowers heavily in early spring. The blooms open in late winter to early spring before the foliage develops and are a bright soft pink. ‘Pink Cloud’ is a similar though more compact cherry raised by Felix Jury.
Himalayan hill cherry (Prunus cerasoides)
This species is rather frost tender, especially when young, but is a beautiful tree where it grows well. Not only does it produce pink flowers in winter, when little else is in bloom, it has attractive banded bark and the unusual habit of shedding its foliage in late summer then producing new leaves before winter. The variety rubea has deeper pink flowers in spring.
Cyclamen cherry (Prunus cyclamina)
Flowering on bare stems in early spring, the cyclamen cherry is a hardy small to medium-sized tree from central China. The flowers, which are rose pink, are followed by bronze new growth that retains its colour for some weeks before greening. The leaves fall late in autumn and often colour well.
Sargent’s cherry (Prunus sargentii)
This large and very hardy Japanese species is probably best known as one of the parents of the very popular hybrid ‘Accolade’. It can grow to as much as 18m tall and will withstand at least -25°C. Its 3 to 4cm wide, bright pink flowers are complemented by red-brown bark.
Kurile cherry (Prunus nipponica var. kurilensis)
Usually little more than a large shrub, this Japanese cherry can reach 6m tall under ideal conditions. The flowers, which are soft pink and open from early spring, are backed by red sepals that hang on for a while after the flowers have fallen, thus prolonging the spring colour.
Prunus × sieboldii
This hybrid has given rise to several popular cultivars. The original cross is a slow-growing small tree with semi-double 3 to 4.5cm wide flowers in spring. The new stems are often very glossy.
Cultivation
Flowering cherries are largely undemanding plants that thrive in almost any well-drained soil. For the best display of flowers they need to see at least half-day sun and if sheltered from the wind, the blooms and the autumn foliage will last far longer than if exposed to the full blast of the elements.
Cherries are often seen growing as lawn specimens, but they can be planted in shrubberies, borders or small groves. By choosing a selection that flowers in succession, it’s possible to have bloom from mid-winter to early summer.
Cherries are natural companions for azaleas and rhododendrons, and can be used to beautiful effect as shade trees for the smaller varieties of these or to shelter a collection of woodland perennials such as primroses and hostas. Japanese maples also blend well with cherries and they can combine to make a brilliant display of autumn foliage.
Pruning
Flowering cherries seldom need major pruning once established. Young trees can be lightly trimmed to develop a pleasing shape and mature plant may be kept compact by tipping the branches, otherwise just remove any vigorous water shoots and suckers that sprout from the rootstock. Make sure that any pruning is done in summer to prevent infecting the trees with silver leaf fungus (Chondrostereum purpureum). Although this disease is present throughout the year, cherries are most resistant to it in summer.
Pests and diseases
Apart from the already mentioned silver leaf, there isn’t really very much that goes wrong with flowering cherries that can’t be tolerated. Sawfly larvae (peach or pear slug) sometimes cause damage to the foliage, and older plants sometimes suffer from dieback in their older branches, but these are seldom serious problems. The dieback is sometimes the result of Armillaria, so it may be advisable to insert some of the now readily available Trichoderma dowels into the trunks of any older cherries to prevent the problem developing.
Propagation
Virtually all of the fancier flowering cherries sold for garden use are budded or grafted, usually onto Prunus avium stocks. Although few home gardeners attempt them, these processes are not difficult. Budding especially, is straightforward and is carried out in exactly the same way as budding roses.
Species, including the standard Prunus avium stock, can be raised from seed or from softwood cuttings taken in spring or early summer. The seed should be removed from the fruit by soaking for few days until all the flesh has fallen away. It is usually best to simulate winter conditions by chilling the seed for a few weeks before sowing.
Graft height
When buying flowering cherries you may be faced with a choice of graft height. Which you choose largely depends on the cultivar and the type of growth best suited to your garden. With weeping cherries choose the highest graft possible (usually 8ft [2.4m]), to allow the maximum length of flowering branch. Upright cultivars like ‘Sekiyama’ are best grafted near ground level so that their erect habit has a chance to develop properly, while graft height in not that important with bushier trees.
The important thing to remember, particularly with high grafted plants, is that the main stem will not gain much height from the grafting point. The stems of a weeping cultivar may grow up before arching down, thus adding some height, but if you choose too low a graft that won’ t make much difference. Low-grafted weeping cherries are, however, ideal for large tubs where they can be kept trimmed to shrub-like proportions.
ParlonsBonsai.com
ParlonsBonsai.com

While the briefness of their glory has to be acknowledged, cherries really are the hardy spring-flowering trees for temperate climate gardens. I can think of no others, apart from their close Prunus relatives and some of the magnolias that even come close to rivalling flowering cherries for sheer weight of bloom and vibrance of colour.

The genus Prunus, to which the cherries, plums, almonds, apricots and peaches belong, includes around 430 species spread over much of the northern temperate regions and has a toehold in South America. Although including a few evergreen species, such as the well-known cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus), the genus is mainly deciduous and generally hardy to the frosts likely to occur in most New Zealand gardens.

The genus Prunus is widely recognised as being divided into 5 or 6 subgenera, though some botanists prefer to recognise these as distinct genera. The subgenus cerasus is the one to which the cherries belong. This group includes a wide variety of species, many of which are not highly ornamental. The species which are of most interest to gardeners are the Chinese and Japanese cherries, not only because they tend to be the most attractive, but also because they tend to be reasonably compact, often have attractive autumn foliage as well as spring flowers and because centuries of development in oriental gardens have produced countless beautiful cultivars.

The Japanese recognise two main groups of flowering cherries: the mountain cherries or yamazakura and the temple or garden cherries, the satozakura. The mountain cherries, which tend to have simple flowers, are largely derived from the original Mountain Cherry (Prunus serrulata var. spontanea), Prunus subhirtella and Prunus incisa. They are mainly cultivated for their early-blooming habit, which is just as well because their rather delicate display would be overwhelmed by the flamboyance of the garden cherries.

The garden cherries are the result of much hybridisation, mostly unrecorded, so we can’t be exactly sure of their origins. Prunus serrulata (in its lowland form) and Prunus subhirtella also feature largely in their background. The other major influences are Prunus sargentii, Prunus speciosa, Prunus apetala and possibly the widespread Bird Cherries (Prunus avium and Prunus padus). The result of these old hybrids and modern developments is the wealth of forms that burst into bloom in our gardens every spring. Regretfully, that complex parentage and those centuries of development and countless cultivars combined with Western misunderstandings of Japanese names and multiple introductions of the same plants under different names has led to considerable confusion with the names of flowering cherries.

Most of the popular garden plants are lumped together under three general headings:

1. Prunus subhirtella cultivars and hybrids;

2. Sato-zakura hybrids;

3. Hybrids no longer listed under parent species, being instead regarded as just to difficult to classify in that way.

But however you view them, flowering cherries have so much to offer that a little confusion over naming and identification shouldn’t stand in the way of your including them in your garden. And now that many of them are available as container-grown plants that can be bought in flower, it’s really just a matter of choosing the flowers you like. Nevertheless, it’s nice to know exactly which plant you’re dealing with, so that you can be sure of its performance and size. While most of the larger nurseries and garden centres take care to supply plants that are true to type, make sure on first flowering that your cherries match their label descriptions. Misidentification, or perhaps misrepresentation, is common.

Plants

Prunus subhirtella cultivars and hybrids

Although the flowers of Prunus subhirtella are usually small and fairly simple, they appear from early winter well into spring, depending on the cultivar. Not only that, the cultivars themselves are long-flowering, often being in bloom for three weeks to a month. There are many cultivars, but most are similar to, or forms of the two main types listed below.

‘Autumnalis’ ( ‘Jugatsu Sakura’)

This is the most reliable winter-flowering form. It often starts to bloom in late April to early May and can carry flowers right through until mid September. It seldom produces a massive burst of bloom, rather sporadic clusters of flowers. This is just as well because the flowers are damaged by heavy frosts. The flowers of ‘Autumnalis’ are white to pale pink opening from pink buds; those of ‘Autumnalis Rosea’ are the same but with a deep pink centre.

‘Pendula’ (‘Ito Sakura’)

Prunus autumnalis tends to have weeping branches and ‘Pendula’ is a cultivar that emphasises this feature. Its flowers are usually pale pink and open in late winter to early spring. ‘Falling Snow’ is a cultivar with pure white flowers, while those of ‘Rosea’ are deep pink.

Sato-zakura hybrids ‘Fugenzo’ ( ‘Shirofugen’ )

‘Fugenzo’ was one of the first, if not the first, Japanese cherry to be grown in European gardens. It ‘s origins can be traced back to at least the 15th century. Its flowers are white to very pale pink, opening from pink buds, and when fully open how two conspicuous green leaf-like pistils in the centre of the flower.

‘Taihaku’

‘Taihaku’ , also known as the great white cherry, has white flowers up to 5cm across. It grows to at least 8m tall with a wider spread and its flowers open at the same time as its bronze foliage expands, making a pleasant contrast. Thought to have been lost to cultivation, this cultivar was identified in Sussex garden from an old Japanese print.

‘Ukon’

Although ‘Ukon’ mean yellowish, this cultivar has very distinctive pale green flowers and is one of the few unmistakable cherries. Its foliage develops purplish tones in autumn. The unusual flower colour contrasts well with the likes of ‘Sekiyama’.

‘Amanogawa’ (‘Erecta’)

‘Amanogawa’ grows to around 6m tall, but only around 1.5m wide, and has pale pink single flowers with a freesia-like scent. It blooms in mid-spring and in autumn the foliage develops striking yellow and red tones.

‘Shogetsu’ (‘Shugetsu’, ‘Shimidsu-zakura’)

‘Shogetsu’ flowers late and produces pendant clusters of white, double flowers that open from pink buds. The flower clusters are up to 15cm long, which makes a tree in full bloom an arresting sight, especially considering that ‘Shogetsu’ is not a large tree and that its weeping habit means it can be covered in bloom right down to the ground.

‘Sekiyama’ (‘Kanzan’)

Certainly among the most popular cherries and most often sold under the name ‘Kanzan’, ‘Sekiyama’ has a relatively narrow, upright growth habit when young but eventually develops into a spreading 12m tall tree. Its flowers, which are pink and very fully double, are carried in pendulous clusters of five blooms. They open from reddish-pink buds. The foliage has a slight red tint.

‘Ariake’ (‘Dawn’, ‘Candida’)

This cultivar grows to about 6m tall and flowers in spring as the foliage develops. The young leaves are a deep bronze shade that contrasts well with white to very pale pink flowers.

‘Kiku-shidare’ (‘Shidare Sakura’)

‘Kiku-shidare’ is similar in flower to ‘Sekiyama’, but it has a weeping growth habit. It is a small tree and is often smothered in bloom from the topmost branches down to near ground level. The flowers can each have up to 50 petals.

‘Pink Perfection’

‘Pink Perfection’ was introduced in 1935 by the famous English nursery Waterer Sons and Crisp. It is a probable ‘Sekiyama’ × ‘Shogetsu’ hybrid and has flowers that show characteristics of both parents; the clustered blooms of ‘Shogetsu’ and the pink of ‘Sekiyama’. The flowers are very fully double and the young foliage is coppery.

‘Kofugen’

‘Kofugen’ has graceful semi-weeping branches and a fairly compact growth habit. Its flowers are not really single but semi-double, though the two whorls of petals are flat rather than ruffled, so the effect is not that easy to see.

‘Shirotae’ (‘Mt. Fuji’)

This beautiful tree has a spreading growth habit that in the best specimens shows distinctly tiered branches. Its flowers, which are white and semi-double on mature plants, start to open before the foliage expands. They are pleasantly scented.

‘Takasago’

Although possibly a Prunus × sieboldii cultivar, ‘Takasago’ is now more widely listed under the satozakura cherries. It bears clusters of semi-double pink flowers with bronze-red new foliage.

‘Ojochin’ (‘Senriko’)

This tree, rather squat when young, but eventually 7m tall bears single white flowers in such profusion as to give the impression of double blooms. Opening from pink buds, the flowers are up to 5cm in diameter and among the later to bloom. ‘Ojochin’ means large lantern, which aptly describes the shape of the flowers.

Other hybrids, species and their cultivars

‘Accolade’

One of the most popular of all garden cherries, ‘Accolade’ is a Prunus sargentii × Prunus subhirtella hybrid that develops into a flat-topped small tree. In spring it is smothered in pendulous clusters of large, bright pink, semi-double flowers.

Yoshino cherry (Prunus × yedoensis)

Well-known as an avenue tree, this Prunus subhirtella × Prunus speciosa hybrid is smothered in white to very pale pink blooms in spring before or as the new leaves develop. When the flowers are spent they form drifts of fallen petals around the base of the tree. There are several cultivars, such as the pink-flowered ‘Akebono’, the pale pink ‘Awanui’ and a weeping form (‘Shidare Yoshino’ or ‘Pendula’).

Taiwan cherry (Prunus campanulata)

The Taiwan cherry is valued for its early-flowering habit and fiery autumn foliage. The flowers, which are usually a vivid deep pink, are heavy with nectar and very popular with birds. Taiwan cherry is rather frost tender, though once established it grows well in most coastal areas.

‘Okame’

Introduced in 1947 by the British authority Collingwood Ingram, ‘Okame’ is a hybrid between the Taiwan cherry and the Fuji cherry (Prunus incisa). It is usually quite hardy, though this appears to be variable, and it flowers heavily in early spring. The blooms open in late winter to early spring before the foliage develops and are a bright soft pink. ‘Pink Cloud’ is a similar though more compact cherry raised by Felix Jury.

Himalayan hill cherry (Prunus cerasoides)

This species is rather frost tender, especially when young, but is a beautiful tree where it grows well. Not only does it produce pink flowers in winter, when little else is in bloom, it has attractive banded bark and the unusual habit of shedding its foliage in late summer then producing new leaves before winter. The variety rubea has deeper pink flowers in spring.

Cyclamen cherry (Prunus cyclamina)

Flowering on bare stems in early spring, the cyclamen cherry is a hardy small to medium-sized tree from central China. The flowers, which are rose pink, are followed by bronze new growth that retains its colour for some weeks before greening. The leaves fall late in autumn and often colour well.

Sargent’s cherry (Prunus sargentii)

This large and very hardy Japanese species is probably best known as one of the parents of the very popular hybrid ‘Accolade’. It can grow to as much as 18m tall and will withstand at least -25°C. Its 3 to 4cm wide, bright pink flowers are complemented by red-brown bark.

Kurile cherry (Prunus nipponica var. kurilensis)

Usually little more than a large shrub, this Japanese cherry can reach 6m tall under ideal conditions. The flowers, which are soft pink and open from early spring, are backed by red sepals that hang on for a while after the flowers have fallen, thus prolonging the spring colour.

Prunus × sieboldii

This hybrid has given rise to several popular cultivars. The original cross is a slow-growing small tree with semi-double 3 to 4.5cm wide flowers in spring. The new stems are often very glossy.

Cultivation

Flowering cherries are largely undemanding plants that thrive in almost any well-drained soil. For the best display of flowers they need to see at least half-day sun and if sheltered from the wind, the blooms and the autumn foliage will last far longer than if exposed to the full blast of the elements.

Cherries are often seen growing as lawn specimens, but they can be planted in shrubberies, borders or small groves. By choosing a selection that flowers in succession, it’s possible to have bloom from mid-winter to early summer. Cherries are natural companions for azaleas and rhododendrons, and can be used to beautiful effect as shade trees for the smaller varieties of these or to shelter a collection of woodland perennials such as primroses and hostas. Japanese maples also blend well with cherries and they can combine to make a brilliant display of autumn foliage.

Pruning

Flowering cherries seldom need major pruning once established. Young trees can be lightly trimmed to develop a pleasing shape and mature plant may be kept compact by tipping the branches, otherwise just remove any vigorous water shoots and suckers that sprout from the rootstock. Make sure that any pruning is done in summer to prevent infecting the trees with silver leaf fungus (Chondrostereum purpureum). Although this disease is present throughout the year, cherries are most resistant to it in summer.

Pests and diseases

Apart from the already mentioned silver leaf, there isn’t really very much that goes wrong with flowering cherries that can’t be tolerated. Sawfly larvae (peach or pear slug) sometimes cause damage to the foliage, and older plants sometimes suffer from dieback in their older branches, but these are seldom serious problems. The dieback is sometimes the result of Armillaria, so it may be advisable to insert some of the now readily available Trichoderma dowels into the trunks of any older cherries to prevent the problem developing.

Propagation

Virtually all of the fancier flowering cherries sold for garden use are budded or grafted, usually onto Prunus avium stocks. Although few home gardeners attempt them, these processes are not difficult. Budding especially, is straightforward and is carried out in exactly the same way as budding roses.

Species, including the standard Prunus avium stock, can be raised from seed or from softwood cuttings taken in spring or early summer. The seed should be removed from the fruit by soaking for few days until all the flesh has fallen away. It is usually best to simulate winter conditions by chilling the seed for a few weeks before sowing.

Graft height

When buying flowering cherries you may be faced with a choice of graft height. Which you choose largely depends on the cultivar and the type of growth best suited to your garden. With weeping cherries choose the highest graft possible (usually 8ft [2.4m]), to allow the maximum length of flowering branch. Upright cultivars like ‘Sekiyama’ are best grafted near ground level so that their erect habit has a chance to develop properly, while graft height in not that important with bushier trees.

The important thing to remember, particularly with high grafted plants, is that the main stem will not gain much height from the grafting point. The stems of a weeping cultivar may grow up before arching down, thus adding some height, but if you choose too low a graft that won’ t make much difference. Low-grafted weeping cherries are, however, ideal for large tubs where they can be kept trimmed to shrub-like proportions.