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Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival 2022

This looks to be a good year for cherries, and despite (or maybe because of) the cold winter weather, blossoming is predicted to be about a week early—though at UBC Botanical Garden, being on the tip of (cool) Point Grey means being at least a week behind the rest of Vancouver. On the UBC Vancouver campus, ‘Somei-yoshino’ (Tokyo cherry) and the similar ‘Akebono’ (daybreak cherry) are primed and ready to bloom in the last week of March or first week of April. Both are selections of P. ´ yedoensis. It’s definitely worth checking out the group of ‘Akebono’ on the southeast side of the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts and the ‘Somei-yoshino’ in the Nitobe Memorial Garden and the historic avenue along nearby Lower Mall. There are, of course, several other cherries on campus, especially in the Nitobe Garden (too many to mention here). It’s worth noting that replacement cherries in the Nitobe are now exclusively “own-root” cherries; that is, they are not grafted plants, so have a more natural manner of growth (we also believe that these plants are more disease resistant than grafted cherries). UBC Botanical Garden is producing own-root cherries at its campus nursery. This year, limited numbers of small plants, including some uncommon cultivars, will be available for sale at the Botanical Garden’s Shop in the Garden. The handbook Ornamental Cherries in Vancouver is also available there.

While at the Botanical Garden, don’t forget to check out the Wharton Cherry Grove, where the early-blooming, deep-pink-flowered Prunus itosakura ‘Whitcomb’ (these trees started opening their buds in February) has yet to reach its peak. Prunus ‘Accolade’, which usually closely follows ‘Whitcomb’, is set to open its vibrant light pink, semi-double flowers shortly. Similarly, the initially strongly upright ‘Umineko’ (seagull) has fattening buds and will start to open its white flowers as its green leaves begin to emerge. The white on green contrast is exceptional. More common in Vancouver than most people realize, the cultivar ‘Pandora’ also has an upright habit and usually follows ‘Umineko’ within a few days, but its flowers are looser and a lovely soft-pink. Both ‘Umineko’ and ‘Pandora’ are modern hybrids developed by the British ornithologist and cherry collector, Collingwood Ingram. There is a recent biography called ‘Cherry’ Ingram: The Englishman Who Saved Japan’s Blossoms, by Naoko Abe that is well worth reading (the U.S. title is Sakura Obsession). It is usually available in the Shop in the Garden.

Most of our later cherries are Sato-zakura (traditional Japanese “village cherries”), and the mid-season brings along the classic ‘Ukon’ (turmeric cherry) with its yellow-stained, semi-double white flowers. Outside the fence, parallel to Marine Drive west of the Garden’s entrance, is a line of the husky ‘Tai-haku’ (great white cherry) that should be opening their generous white flowers about the same time. Sometime after, look for the magnificent, cream and soft-pink, fully-double ‘Ito-kukuri’ (still a small tree, but impressive), and large-budded, white-flowered ‘Ojochin’ (large lantern cherry). Following these (or sometime coinciding with, depending on the weather) are the double soft-pink ‘Ichiyo’, and luscious-pink, single- and semi-double-flowered ‘Mikuruma-gaeshi’ (the royal carriage returns). Both are show-stopping Sato-zakura. A close ‘Ukon’ relative is ‘Gyoiko’. This Sato-zakura has unusual, green, white and purple-flushed flowers, which usually start to show later on in April. Perhaps any or all of these will whet your appetite for more of Vancouver’s cherries.

Don’t forget to join us for the Big Picnic, this year on April 2nd at David Lam Park, home to one hundred ‘Akebono’ cherries. The festivities, part of the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival’s Annual “Cherry Jam,” include a gala opening ceremony with performances by Vancouver’s three Host Nations—Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh—and a special tree dedication. ‘Akebono’ petals will be falling all around. Perfect.

Douglas Justice
Associate Director of Horticulture & Collections at UBC Botanical Garden

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