PLANT OF THE WEEK #64: Prunus mume 'Alboplena'

Though it’s now about 35 years ago, I could easily take you to the exact spot on the main lawn at Ripponlea (where I was doing an apprenticeship) when I caught my first whiff of a sweet, elusive perfume on the air, this time of year.  My brain went into an involuntary file search, and got caught in the neuronic equivalent of the spinning ball.  The scent was familiar – comfortingly familiar – and yet not entirely so.  There was layers of recognition, but others that I couldn’t place.  The file that my memory kept throwing at me, and then discarding, was the file for the perfume of hyacinths.

It was way too early for hyacinths, being right in the dead of winter – that time that feels least conducive to the distillation of perfumes, which therefore adds a surprise and delight element unique to the season.

So I sniffed around and around, until I finally traced the scent back to a few stray blooms on an old Japanese flowering apricot, so deep in a shrubbery that a weak flowering was the best it could do.  The flowers were a lowish grade of baby-mixed-with-candy-pink, and were so sparse as to have no visual impact.  But the olfactory impact was incredible.

The Japanese flowering apricot (Prunus mume) was thus added to the list of plants for which I’ll always have a deep but unfulfilled longing.  

About a decade later, we moved into a rental house on Mount Macedon in the front garden of which was a huge old weeping flowering apricot, right at the start of its long flowering time.  Every time I got out of the car, my spirit revisited the lawn at Ripponlea.  This weeping form is now about the only form in which we can purchase Prunus mume, and even then it’s hard to get. As someone who can barely think of a single location in which I’d choose to plant a weeping tree (as they’re total primmadonnas, and in my mind, planting is a team sport), I long for one of the tree forms of Prunus mume, which get to three or four metres tall, and about three wide, in a basic vase shape allowing for plenty of planting beneath, of flowering apricot, preferably in deep red, or double white (featured here).

Several years later again, just out of interest, I looked up an old hard copy of the British RHS’s The Plantfinder and found that there had once been at least 30 cultivars of Prunus mume.  The current online version of PlantFinder UK shows eighteen named forms, of which only five are available in nurseries there.  In Australia, I’m not aware of more than three – the double pink, the double pink weeper, and the double white (Prunus mume ‘Alboplena’).

But the biggest hurdle, for me, is frost.  Like all apricots, grown for fruit or flowers, the tree itself is frost hardy, but the blooms are not.  So every time there’s a frost, you lose all the current crop of blooms.  As Prunus mume has a long flowering time, it’s likely that fresh buds will continue to open.  But with the frequency of frosts around here, I’d hate the constant return to square one.

So it remains on the list of unfulfilled longings.  I’m OK with that.  I’ve long ago realised that longing has fabulously life-giving aspects to it.  And gardening, as we all well know, is full of it.

Do you know Prunus mume? I give it 7.5 out of 10 stars. How many do you give it?

Discussion

  1. I don’t know the Prunus mume, but in the centre of our front garden is a large and beautifully flowering pink weeping apricot which began flowering in Autumn. The frost doesn’t seem to affect the flowers but strong wind will strip the flowers. It could be 40 years old.

    1. Scented Veronica?

  2. Really? a longing for Prunus? Yes, we have all the fruiting varieties, and how wonderful it is to grow your own, but an ornamental still reminds me of a barren new suburb of the 50’s and 60’s with the nature strips adorned with these trees looking so lonely and shocked as to why they are sitting there. (ok, that might just have been my feelings as a child growing up there) But when I discovered the shirotae Mt. Fuji in an Arabella Lenox-Boyd book I found one to adore. Perhaps because of it’s fitting situation with hedges wrapping around a pair, facing a pond I think. Such grace and elegance. And like you, if I wasn’t aware we can’t keep planting unsustainably just because we want it, I’ll admire it from afar.

    1. Yep. Really. But not just any old Prunus. Like you, I wan’t any fan of the purple-leafed prunus used as street trees in the ’60’s

  3. I too love Prunus mume too Michael! I have been growing a Prunus mume ‘The Geisha’ for 7 years now and it is an absolute favourite. I can’t gush enough about it. Mine grows in an enclosed garden I’ve made into a woodland. Enclosed by hedges. You can smell it before you see it, the perfume wafts out of the entrance to the garden and drags you in. It starts from early June and is still going now. Picture standing in the heart of a koru, surrounded by deciduous trees to about three metres high. Engulfed in a deep perfume, with pink blossom drifting down around you. Snowdrops on the ground between many lower growing camellias, ‘Quintessence’ and ‘Sweet Emily Kate’. Amongst their friends, Camelia ‘Sweet Jane’, ‘Cinnamon Cindy’ and ‘Transnokoensis’, all flowering their heads off, all scented. Double white violet scrambling around. Those new marble leafed Hellebores showing off pinky flowers. Lots more planted in here for later too. Who says winter is bare? Not here in a New Zealand country garden, and Prunus mume is the star!

    1. Wish we could get ‘The Geisha’. I’m on the hunt for more named varieties

  4. When we built our house about 30 years ago in Central Victoria, I planted a Prunus mume pendula (the double pink form) at the front of the house in the centre of its own triangular bed underplanted with Erigeron ‘Elsie’. This was to remind me of the two weeping apricots on either side of the flight of steps leading to the orchard at Burnley Horticultural College where I was a student. Every year it begins flowering in the first week of June and goes right through to late August. So much better value than a cherry. The flowers open sequentially down the ‘wands’ looking like a pink fountain. My frosts are not as hard as Woodend so the flowers are unaffected. The autumn display of fiery orange and yellow leaves makes this a tree for more than one season. As long as I remember to cut it back hard after the last flower falls, my tree continues to delight year after year!

    1. As I mentioned, I’m no fan of weepers, but I think I’d make an exception in this case

  5. Yes the perfume of plants can be so evocative – I really miss our plum orchard at the start of spring – imagine walking through 8 acres of white blossom, the sound of a few million bees and the heady thick scent of honey. One of the pleasures of life!

    1. Yes, truly underrated. Apple blossom has a lovely feel-good scent, but is so faint that it’s rarely mentioned. I’ve not experienced the collective effect of plums en masse

Leave a Comment

More Blog Posts

PLANT OF THE WEEK #29: Viburnum davidii

In my last piece for Plant of the Week, I name-checked two French missionaries who worked in China, and were responsible for introducing several plants many of us think of as ‘British’ into hortic ...

Sternbergias on a hairpin

If you’ve followed the discussion after that last post (I love those replies), you’d have seen Cathy’s on Sternbergia – an Autumn-flowering crocus-like thing. It had me trawling through pics t ...

PLANT OF THE WEEK #44: Itea ilicifolia

First, let’s establish that we at The Gardenist don’t deliberately choose impossible-to-source plants for our Plant of the Week.  It may appear that way.  But name me an interesting plant that i ...