A Famous Cherry Tree

The cherry trees all over Primrose Hill are at their beautiful best this week. Let’s enjoy every moment of them before the blossom is scattered by the wind.

The six white flowering trees around the middle of Chalcot Square are no exception. But one of them is a variety with a fascinating history. The smallest and most recently planted tree is a Great White, or Tai-haku cherry tree, its blossoms being larger and a pure white.

It is hard to imagine spring in the UK without ornamental cherries, but in fact they nearly all came from Japan in the nineteenth century. An Englishman by the name of Collingwood Ingram was fascinated by them; in the interwar years he planted a garden in Kent, travelled to Japan and grew many specimens. On one trip he was shown scrolls with paintings of cherry trees and learned  of a most beautiful variety with large white blossoms which was now extinct.

He recognised it as the same as an old and dying one in a garden in nearby Sussex, which he had managed to reproduce from cuttings in his own grounds. He then worked on sending samples for grafting back to Japan, eventually succeeding in keeping them cool and damp by sticking them into potatoes and sending them on the Trans-Siberian Railway via Vladivostok.

Now all the many Tai-hakus in Japan have come from these cuttings, sent back in the 1920s.

So when you sit on a bench in Chalcot Square soaking in the beauty of the spring blossom, you can remember Collingwood ‘Cherry’ Ingram, his excellent observation and his strong determination.

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