Prunus ‘Tai-Haku’ is also known as the great white cherry. Photo: Chris Sanders
Sarah Morgan discovers how to use ornamental cherry trees in garden schemes
In the UK, we can grow around 50 species of ornamental cherry trees (including the occasional shrub), plus hundreds of different varieties. As well as having beautiful dark pink to white flowers, ornamental cherries are as colourful in autumn as maples.
Size matters, as many are big trees. The largest, including the Great White Cherry Prunus ‘Tai-Haku’, need a space equal to two Range Rovers parked end to end (8-10m). These are usually planted with magnolias or camellias, or can be grown as lawn specimens underplanted with spring bulbs.
You can find medium-sized trees with a span of about 4-5m – P. incisa is worth seeking out, as its many varieties are smaller than other cherry trees. More unusual is P. incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’ AGM, a container or border shrub with zigzag branches that are a feature in winter. In early spring its delicate pale-pink flowers look gorgeous with fluffy seedheads of Salix hastata or yellow Cornus mas.
For smaller gardens, there’s also a choice of columnar trees with a 2-4m span. P. sargentii is popular for its wonderful autumn colour, but it’s a wide spreading tree compared to P. sargentii ‘Rancho’, which is a good alternative for smaller spaces. It spans just 3m and produces masses of large pale-pink flowers.
“I like the fastigiate cherries, as they don’t take up much space, so bring seasonal interest closer to houses without creating additional shade,” says Sue Townsend MSGD. “I’ve used their columnar shape to break up the length at the front of a long house, and added interest with lots of planting underneath.”
Sue has also used P. ‘Umineko’ in an avenue up a driveway, underplanted with chunky box hedging. It doesn’t have such a large canopy (4m) as some of the other cherries, and “looks gorgeous in spring with whitish-pink blossom and then lovely autumn colour”.
In her own garden, she has planted two formal lines of the native P. avium either side of a walkway and punctuated it with statues. “They are not over-showy, so the contrast between a straight line of informal-looking trees works especially well in the country.
For year-round interest, Sue suggests cherries such as P. serrula ‘Tibetica’, “which has fantastic glossy bark that really draws the eye”.
Discover more top varieties chosen by our specialist plantsman here
Top tips for growing cherries
• Cherries are shallow-rooted so they like plenty of water, but hate being waterlogged. Their ideal soil is a well-drained general loam, but they also survive in free-draining sand.
• Choose the right tree for the space you have – you don’t want to cramp their style.
• Most flowering cherries will ultimately get quite large but you can be quite brutal when pruning them back, and even use a chainsaw. Two years on you’ll get flowers again and by the third year you’ll have your nicely shaped tree back. Established trees should be pruned in midsummer.
• Since February, each and every import of cherry to England must be notified in advance with the Animal and Plant Health Agency. The order extends the statutory notification scheme for imports of certain tree species from other EU member states, including Prunus. Find out more at www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2016/104/pdfs/uksi_20160104_en.pdf
Where to see & buy
• Keele University holds a National Collection of over 240 varieties. They have an excellent website with pictures and flowering times. Keele University, Keele, Staffordshire ST5 5BG. www.keele.ac.uk/cherries
• Chew Valley Trees, Winford Road, Chew Magna, Bristol BS40 8HJ. Tel: 01275 333752 www.chewvalleytrees.co.uk