Pretty in Pink

Everything’s popping up pink along city boulevards, in parks and front yards – the first of the spring-flowering shrubs are strutting their stuff.  These pretty ladies are various species of the Prunus genus, a large genus that includes peaches, plums, cherries, apricots and almonds. In Calgary, the current explosion of pink blossoms comes from 3 different species.

Prunus tomentosa is first on the scene, with pale pink flowers that present before the leaves.  Commonly known as Nanking Cherry, this medium to large shrub is native to China, Korea and the Himalayas. It has been cultivated in North America since early last century, providing a drought tolerant, cold hardy (Zone 2) shrub that grows to a height and spread of 2–3 metres. It produces small tart cherries that are excellent for jams and jellies.

Prunus tomentosa

Pale pink Prunus tomentosa is a common sight on city boulevards. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prunus triloba multiplex, the double-flowering plum, is by far the showiest of the three, its large double pastel-pink blossoms like cotton-balls along the many arching stems. A very vigorous grower, reaching 2–3 metres tall and wide, it will benefit from periodic pruning to remove any crossed or rubbing branches. This variety is sterile and doesn’t produce fruit.

Prunus triloba multiplex. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prunus triloba multiplex. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prunus tenella (Russian almond) is a smallish shrub with an upright vase shape and narrow green leaves that appear at the same time as the medium pink flowers. It’s compact and tidy, reaching only about 1 metre in height and spread. Very fragrant too, it is much underutilized in the urban landscape.

Prunus tinella. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prunus tenella. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Despite their similar appearance when seen from a distance, these three shrubs have very different blossoms. Left – Prunus tomentosa. Middle – Prunus tenella. Right – Prunus triloba multiplex.  Photos: Sue Gaviller

Despite their similar appearance when seen from a distance, these three shrubs have very different blossoms. Left – Prunus tomentosa. Middle – Prunus tenella. Right – Prunus triloba multiplex.
Photos: Sue Gaviller

Design Value

Many designers eschew the use of these shrubs because they’re ‘old fashioned’. It’s true they are, but they still have design value. They’re right at home in a Naturalistic garden and are especially useful in Asian-inspired or Colonial style gardens – and they’re reliably floriferous too.

A naturalistic planting of grasses, pine and double flowering plum in a local park.  Photo:Sue Gaviller

A naturalistic planting of grasses, pine and double flowering plum in a local park.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prunus tomentosa is lovely in front of the Asian inspired fence I designed for a client. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prunus tomentosa is lovely in front of an Asian-inspired fence I designed for a client. Photo: Sue Gaviller

When finished blooming, their design worth is more as a backdrop than a showpiece. Nanking cherry and flowering plum both have a lovely natural vase shape, as well as dark green, medium-coarse leaves which provide nice contrast to other brighter plants. Russian almond is much finer textured with lighter green leaves – together with its very upright branches, also provides good contrast in the landscape. And as woodies, they all offer much-desired structure to our gardens.

Perhaps it’s time to rethink these old-fashioned beauties – charm and grace come with age you know.

Til next time,
Sue