In recent posts I have featured plants that I would never regret planting but may not be to everyone’s taste. I am pleased to say that today I am highlighting a plant that no one would have such qualms about – it is just about as perfect as can be and as pretty as a peach. In fact it is a cherry.
Everyone loves the look of flowering cherries but they are not as popular as they might be. I would always think hard about planting one because the flowers are usually welcomed by blossom-shattering gales, they have surface roots that sucker into lawns and they frequently limp along, suffering from bacterial canker.
But the delightful Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’ is a dwarf tree that really has it all.
Masses of pastel pink flowers in spring, opening almost white and turning deeper pink when pollinated.
Attractive, slightly zig-zag growth and small leaves.
Compact habit – usually no more than 1.5m high – ideal for a pot on the patio.
Glorious autumn colour.
Lack of serious pests and diseases.
Prunus incisa is a bushy tree that can reach 8m high and comes from Japan. It was discovered by Carl Thunberg as long ago as 1776 but it did not reach Britain until 1916 when Kew received plants from the Arnold Arboretum in the USA. Ireland beat Kew to it though and they had plants in 1913. Ernest Wilson saw it in Japan and noted that it was a beautiful tree to grow in pots which restricted its growth but not its beauty. The RHS gave it an AGM in 1930. Prunus ‘Okame’ is a hybrid with this species (and P. campanulata) that was raised by ‘Cherry’ Collingwood Ingram and is a small tree with bright pink flowers.
‘Kojo-no-mai’ is a smaller form of Prunus incisa that was discovered by Shiuo Akaike growing along the Yoshida path to Mount Fuji. Apparently the original plant died so maybe he dug it up, but luckily for us some cuttings rooted and survived. I am not sure when it first reached cultivation in the UK but I have a feeling that it may have been down to Blooms of Bressingham because I recall them ‘plugging’ it heavily in the 1980s/90s. It was about the same time as they filled us all with awe with pots of mop-headed Hakonechloa. It received an AGM in 2012.
‘Kojo-no-mai’ means ‘flight of butterflies’ and I think it is very aptly named.
It tends to bloom just as the snowdrops are fading and would be perfect with pink hellebores underneath or a carpet of blue, small bulbs or pale blue pulmonarias or anemones. My plant is about 12 years old now and 1.2m high and across. It is not fussy about soil or site but it won’t like waterlogged soils and will grow and bloom best in full sun. Like most cherries, it prefers slightly alkaline soils and should only be pruned in summer. Pruning should not be necessary because it is slow growing but you may want to remove a few lower branches to show off those hellebores better.
And if you want to grow it in a pot, use John Innes No 3 and pot it up in stages until it is finally in a pot about 60cm across. Young plants only cost about £10 so anyone can enjoy this beautiful plant.