Plants I love

Chasing cherries in Japan

Chasing cherries in Japan with a Ross Garden Tours group was even better than I thought it would be.  And it looks like I’ll get to repeat the fun next year!  If you’d like to join me, call Ros or Royce at Ross Garden Tours on 1300 233 200 and register your interest.  Be quick  – that tour sells out fast. Meanwhile, to give you a taste of what it’s all about, here’s the story I wrote for Spectrum in the Sydney Morning Herald on my return.

I’ve been away chasing cherry blossom in Japan, where it is famously celebrated. We drank plum wine with cherry blossoms floating in the bottom of the glass; ate pickled and salted cherry blossoms and cherry blossom ice cream; watched people lay out their turquoise tarpaulins under the trees in the morning to save a space for that night’s blossom-viewing parties and stocked up on cherry blossom Kitkats and cherry blossom sake.

Party under the cherry at Kanzawa

Ready to party under the cherries at Kanazawa

But before it was a festival of eating and drinking, revering cherry blossom had a spiritual element. The beauty and brevity of the cherry blossom is a metaphor in Japanese poetry for the beauty and brevity of life. Its blooming serves as an annual reminder, both of the passing of time and the renewal of hope.

And it works: I was alternately, and sometimes at once – delighted to the point of laughter and moved to the edge of tears. I had been expecting pretty and pink, and got so much more. Partly this has to do with the cherry that is most seen in Japan. It is not bright pink or candy pink, but the palest pink, just on the pink side of white – a sunrise reflected on snow, that kind of pink.

Yoshino cherry Japan

Yoshino cherry,

This cherry is known in japan as yoshino, Prunus x yedoensis. Almost as magical as the blossom itself is that fact that the yoshino is a hybrid that occurred just once, but has been cloned and grafted and is now grown all over Japan. (In Australia, it’s best in a cool to cold climate, moist, fertile soil and full sun.)

We started the cherry chase in Kyoto, where only a few buds were sparking on the branches of the yoshinos leaning over the canal. A few days later and further south, the avenue of yoshinos on the top of the moat around Nagoya Castle were in peak bloom. It had just stopped raining when we arrived. The sky was heavy and white and the air carried the subtle sweet scent of the cherries. We were enveloped in blossom, overhead in a veil of palest pink and across the moat, where branches leaned down like a frozen waterfall of white. The light under the flowers had an opaque quality as if we were floating underwater, embraced by the fragile delicacy of the blossom.

Yoshino cherries at Nagoya castle

Yoshino cherries along the moat at Nagoya castle

In Kanazawa, the blossoms started falling in a confetti of petals drifting into our hair. In Tokyo a strong warm wind blew up and the yoshinos along the banks of the Meguro River let their flowers fall and the river was covered with petals and the pale pink icefloe drifted downstream. The next day it was all over; streetsweepers cleaned up the browning, slippery mess.

Cherry petals on Meguro River

Cherry petal ‘ice floes’ on the Meguro River

Time is always expressed in gardens, and flowers are the ultimate markers of its passing. So plant breeders are doing us a disservice – though it’s we one demand of them – by producing plants with every-increasing periods of flower. Urged on by gardeners keen for year-round interest and low-maintenance everything, they are trying to banish the ephemeral from our gardens. But I’m voting for more change, reminded by the cherry blossom of the beauty of things passing.

Fallen cherry blossom

Fallen cherry blossom


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