March plant of the month

Spring brings wonderful delights to the garden and a favourite for any gardener is always the sight of trees covered in blossom...

Prunus 'Pandora'A cherry tree in full bloom is a sure sign spring is in full swing and the worst of the winter has passed. The classic spring blossom is provided by Prunus and a great variety to grow is Prunus ‘Pandora’ which produces an amazing display of beautiful blossom in the spring.
Ornamental cherries or Prunus, to give them their Latin name, are a big group of trees originating mainly from the Far East, including China, Korea and Japan, where the famous cherry blossom festival is a major national event.

Prunus are primarily grown for their wonderful blossom but some also have great autumn colour and attractive bark.  They vary in size from large trees that have considerable spread to smaller varieties that can be used in medium sized gardens such as ‘Pandora’, which makes a wonderful specimen reaching around 8m in height and growing in an upright shape at first and then developing into a neat vase shaped tree as it matures. 

Prunus ‘Pandora’ is a deciduous tree with oval, dark green leaves, about 7cm long, which are bronze when they first emerge in spring and turn wonderful shades of orange and dark red in the autumn. ‘Pandora’ produces masses of solitary, cup-shaped, pale pink flowers usually in mid-March at RHS Garden Hyde Hall (depending on the weather) when its stems are clothed in blossom and they completely smoother the plant for a week or two assuming there is no wind or rain to spoil the show!
Ornamental cherries are relatively easy to grow and like a well-drained, humus-rich, fertile soil and they dislike being grown in a wet soil during the winter months. They like an open sunny site and suffer from few pests and diseases, although if they are grown in an enclosed position the flowers may suffer from blossom wilt, which makes them turn brown and drop early. Prunus are not a long lived tree compared to an oak or a beech but will probably grow happily in your garden for up to 50 years. They require little pruning other than removing dead, diseased and damaged wood.
At RHS Garden Hyde Hall Prunus ‘Pandora’ can be found growing in the Hilltop Garden near the Lower Pond. Beneath it is a wonderful carpet of Chionodoxa forbesii which make a dazzling show with their bright blue flowers in spring, contrasting with the cherries' pink petals. Other perennials to try around the base include Geranium ‘Johnson’s Blue’ with its mauve flowers in late spring and Persicaria bistorta ‘Superba’ with its pink flowers later in summer. Both of these perennials will tolerate a tough environment if it becomes dry under the canopy of a tree.
Other good selections of Prunus to look out for include P. ‘Accolade’ which has large pale pink flowers and a broad canopy and P. ‘The Bride’ which has white flowers with red anthers and a shrubby growth habit reaching around 6m in height and spread making it suitable for the smaller garden. Also look out for Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’ which is a slow growing and compact plant suitable for containers and has a zig-zag growth habit and pink flowers. Alternatively try P. mume ‘Beni-chidori’ (one of the Japanese apricots) which has small bowl-shaped flowers, which are dark pink and it only reaches around 2.5m in height and spread, ensuring it can easily be incorporated into a border.      

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