16 March 2018

Sakura season in the Gardens

In celebration of one of the most spectacular and welcome events in the garden calendar, Library Graduate Trainee Andy Farquhar goes in search of materials relating to the blossom trees that will shortly be exploding into colour.

By Andy Farquhar

A cherry tree blossoming by the Palm House

A magical time of year

We're fast approaching my favourite time of the year, one marked by a spectacular explosion of colour in the gardens and on the verges: Sakura season (Sakura, or 桜, is the Japanese word for flowering cherry trees and cherry blossom). I vividly remember, two years ago, walking beneath the branches of a flowering cherry tree in a garden near my home, and being really happy to see my first blossom of the year. I had passed that same tree many times over the previous decade or so, and was distraught when, just a month after seeing that first blossom, the tree had been felled - from one day to the next it had simply ceased to be.

Impermanence

But that poignantly empty space behind the garden wall was entirely appropriate, because in Japanese culture the cherry blossom is representative of the quality of impermanence - and a reminder to celebrate the vigorous beauty of life while it is, knowing full well that it will not endure.

The cherry blossom depicted here are one of ten collotype plates collected into a single volume called Some Japanese Flowers, by Ogawa Kazamasu. The cover is crepe washi paper attached to board with rice starch, and bound with silk ties.

Beauty for sale

I tend to focus on the more esoteric items in the Library, Art and Archives collections, and was really pleased to find a catalogue for the Yokohama Nursery, dated 1910. The catalogue isn't bound, but the pages are held together with silk ties at the spine. It has a striking cover, black and white photographs throughout and occasional colour illustrations. One such can be found on page 39, a beautiful full-colour plate of various flowering cherry varieties.

Illustration showing Japanese cherry blossom

The easy way or the hard way?

As a long-time student of Japanese, I have a real love of parallel-text books - books that give me the option to take it easy and read in English or apply some effort with Japanese script. The Mume and Flowering Cherry is one such work with parallel-text. Published in 1993, it is heavily illustrated throughout with depictions of cherry blossoms (and plum, and apricot) on kimono and painted screens, tea bowls (chawan) and even the lacquer-work adorning the risers of wooden steps. There is a detailed identification section, and larger photographs of sites renowned for their cherry blossoms, such as Himeji-Jo castle, in Hyogo Prefecture.

Sakura viewing

Here in the Gardens at Kew we have many varieties of Prunus, which make for many opportunities to throw a cherry blossom viewing party. If you visit between the end of March and the beginning of May you stand a good chance of catching some of the great displays of blossom. You also might catch the magnolias in full bloom, as they should also be flowering around that time. "Cherry Walk," one of the plum locations for blossom trees can be found beginning behind the Palm House and leading towards the soon to be reopening Temperate House.

And don't forget the Little Trees

Whether visiting specifically for the blossoms, or generally to enjoy the gardens in spring, make sure to visit the bonsai house. These beautiful little trees are tucked away near the Jodrell gate, next to the School of Horticulture, where they can all too easily be overlooked by visitors.

- Andy Farquhar -

Library Graduate Trainee

References

  • Ogawa, Kazumasa (~1895) Some Japanese Flowers, Tokio.
  • Watanabe, Satomi et al. (1993) The Mume and Flowering Cherry, Parks and Open Space Association of Japan.
  • Yokohama Ueki Kabushiki Kaisha (~1910) Bulbs, plants, seeds : descriptive catalogue of the Yokohama Nursery Co. Limited. 1910-11, Yohohama Nursery Co. Limited.

Read & watch