The Garden Path — Flowering apricot a salient feature

The Garden Path — Flowering apricot a salient feature

Posted: Tuesday, February 14, 2012 8:00 pm
By: By Jimmy Williams

Once in a blue moon, some plant or other of mine performs beyond expectations. When it does, I feel compelled to dote on it for a whole one of these columns and heartily recommend that you, too, have one.
Such is the Japanese flowering apricot, Prunus Mume. This tree has a number of exemplary features, not the least of which is winter flowering.
Besides that, however, it would be worth growing if it bloomed right in the middle of high spring along with the plethora of other things. Even then it would prove to be a salient component of any garden.
It is remarkable the flowering apricot is so little known and seldom grown in these parts. As far as I know, mine is the only example in Henry County. Gardeners are poorer for that.
(Update: I just learned last week that Bill and Glenda Hudson have one, brought to them by their daughter-in-law, Jenny Hudson, from South Carolina a couple of years ago.)
In the Orient, the plant is widely popular and many named varieties are known. The straight species is admirable in itself, but the cultivars offer improvements.
Mine is ‘Bonita,’ with semi-double gaudy (we all crave all the gaud we can get in sere winter) flowers.
‘Bonita’ has been around a long time, and there are many more modern ones.
Japanese flowering apricot makes up into a spreading tree on the order of many others of the genus Prunus, including cherries, peaches and plums.
It is shapely, even without pruning, but if opened up a bit, such as one would do with a peach, it flowers more heavily.
It will, in 15 years, be some 15 feet tall and a bit wider. Ours fits that description exactly, after that same 15 years.
It is located in our arboretum, so called, a vacant lot next door that is interspersed, somewhat randomly, with various trees and shrubs.
The flowering apricot is the first thing there to bloom, starting, in a mild winter, about the turn of the year.
This time it bloomed the entire month of January, is just winding down as we speak, and brought a lot of comment from passersby.
In harder winters, it might not start up until February, but what other trees bloom then either? Not many.
Once the flowers start to open, it would seem their fragility would be damaged by hard freezes. Not so. Even in the present mild winter, our tree experienced 18 degrees while in full bloom and didn’t blink.
If even colder temperatures do knock it back, later buds will follow and open.
Unlike some other trees of the genus, flowering apricot is relatively long-lived. Most flowering cherries and edible peaches are not.
The flowering apricot bears loads of small fruits, some 2 inches long, that are inedible, or at least not tasty.
The resulting litter could be a disadvantage in close quarters, but is no problem in “outlying areas,” as the weathermen say.
If all the visibly obvious qualities of flowering apricot weren’t enough, the flowers exude a most enticing fragrance on the cold winter air. Even on a frigid night the aroma is carried hundreds of feet.
Now for the fly in the ointment: Just try to find a flowering apricot in a nursery. I can’t remember where I got ours, but I do know I have not seen one in the intervening 15 years.
Help me talk our nurserymen into ordering some, or search the Internet and settle for a scrawny mail-order specimen that might — might — live.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column. Published in The Messenger 2.14.12

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