To appreciate one of my favorite spring blooms I need to look up, not down. The beautiful flowers of ornamental cherry trees are just breathtaking at this time of year.. Their profusion of delicate pink petals juxtaposed against a rich blue sky is a quintessential image of the season.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C. certainly goes a long way in reinforcing this tree as a hallmark of spring. According to many accounts, the trees should be in peak bloom for this year's festivities, which began March 29th and continue through April 13th, 2008.
The predominant varieties growing in Washington are 'Yoshino' (Prunus x yedoensis) and 'Kwanzan' (Prunus serrulata 'Kwanzan'). 'Yoshino' has single, white blooms while the 'Kwanzan' produces double petaled, clear pink flowers, which peak about two weeks later than the 'Yoshino'.
My favorite variety of ornamental cherry is the 'Okame' (Prunus x incam 'Okame'). I like to use it in garden designs because of its small stature and beautiful fall foliage. The delicate pink blooms appear in very early spring.
Another interesting variety is the autumn flowering cherry (Prunus subhirtella var. autumnalis). As the name implies it will produce a light dusting of blooms during warm weather in the fall, but its biggest display appears in the spring. It is more cold hardy than many cherry trees, growing as far north as zone 4.
And be on the look out for a new series of flowering cherries to be named after the First Ladies of the United States. The varieties in this series will have an upright, almost columnar habit, which makes them perfect for small spaces or planting in rows to create enclosure. The National Arboretum introduced the variety 'First Lady' in 2007.
Just like spring, the blooms of ornamental cherry trees are fleeting. This may be one reason why I cherish them so. If you are in the Washington, D.C. area I encourage you to stroll under the canopies of these marvelous trees. It is an excellent reminder of our blessings from nature and a wonderful way to kick off this bountiful season.
Even if you can't make it to the National Cherry Blossom Festival, you can see the blooms. Check out the Cherry Blossom WebCam on the National Park Service's website -