Nancy Brachey

Make the winter bloom with flowering trees

I like the way the Piedmont landscape slowly wakes up in winter. Instead of throwing off the covers, it sends out subtle hints that the flowering season has begun. This is nothing like the way spring shows her stuff starting in March, then moving into full blast through April and May.

No, winter is subtle. It surprises you. One day little snowdrops appear in a flower bed, glistening white and so cheerful you get down on your knees in the cold grass for a closer look. Another day, little winter crocuses that escaped the notice of rabbits appear. The brave little things are just a few inches tall, bearing cup-shaped blooms in soft pastels of pink, blue and yellow.

These are little things, easy to miss if you’re not looking. But others we see in winter are not too small to notice, and they stand out beautifully in the winter landscape.

Two flowering trees that bloom in winter and always seem to delight people are the Japanese flowering almond (Prunus mume) and the Okame cherry. These are medium-size trees growing to 25 feet or so that are an ideal addition to any home landscape.

Both belong to the cherry plant family, but don’t expect edible fruit from them. Their role is to be beautiful. That is enough, isn’t it?

Having trees such as this in your home landscape means you don’t have to spend time on wishful thinking about spring beauty. They bring it to you now. They make your landscape more complete, with strong floral interest at a time you don’t really expect to see it. Every Piedmont gardener should aim for year-round beauty with strong visual elements for every season.

These two trees, like most others, can be planted now so their roots become established before the stress of warmer weather. They require sun and moist but well-drained soil. Give them a spot where they can be enjoyed from the house as well as outdoors.

Okame, a modern hybrid developed in England in the late 1940s, possesses an upright shape with a graceful oval canopy. A bonus is excellent orange-to-red fall color. The winter blooms are bold in color, typically called carmine pink.

Prunus mume’s canopy is more horizontal, sometimes even weeping, and very graceful. One of the most popular named varieties is Peggy Clarke, which bears double blooms of rosy pink. It is beautiful.