The bees are buzzing gently among the sprays of pink flowers on my purple-leafed cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera ‘Nigra’). As I walk past, a gust of wind sets off a shower of petals. This is the tree that announces spring’s arrival in my garden. When its pretty buds show pink, I know the garden is starting to come back to life after a chilly winter.
However, its blossom doesn’t last long, especially in a spring that’s punctuated by gusty westerly winds. So, when the flowers have gone, as this particular tree doesn’t go on to produce fruit, you may think that’s it. But even without a crop, it still has much to offer my garden.
This variety, ‘Nigra’, has dark leaves that appear almost purple-black as they open. They lose something of their rich, dark tones as they mature, but they stand out against the green of nearby trees and shrubs, even during mid-summer, which provides a striking foliage contrast.
I can also sit beneath it on a sunny summer afternoon, enjoying its shade. At only about 3.5m tall and wide, it is just the right size for a small garden or for a small area in a larger garden.
This flowering plum is only one of a host of ornamental blossom trees. It has single pink flowers but its close relative, the double pink flowering plum (P. blireana) which is also featuredon this month’s cover, has pretty double blossom that smothers its branches.
Plums are not the only fruit trees that have non-fruiting, flower-only forms. The trees are usually labelled ‘flowering’ or ‘ornamental’ to distinguish them clearly from their productive relations.
As well as ornamental plum trees, you can also grow ornamental peach, pear, cherry and almond trees. Some, especially flowering peaches and pears, do form small but inedible fruits, which can be a nuisance if they drop on paths. To overcome the problem of unwanted fruit, make sure you prune ornamental trees after they’ve finished flowering.
Flowering forms, like their fruiting relatives, like to be grown in a sunny, open situation with shelter from hot winds, and planted in well-drained soil.
Once established, these trees need less regular water than fruit-producing trees as they are not sustaining a crop. Rain or a deep water once a month is usually enough to keep them healthy.