This morning I planted a weeping cherry on a client's terrace. I used to scorn the weeping cherry. They're grafted trees (a weeping cherry scion onto an upright cherry rootstock) and there's something about grafted trees that bugs me. It's a tough love thing: if the tree can't survive on its own roots, then damn it! it doesn't deserve to survive at all. But after my trip to Japan this spring I have new appreciation for all things cherry: weeping cherries, wild cherries, double cherry blossoms, single cherry blossoms, cherry blossoms viewed at night (light-o up-u), cherry blossoms viewed in a day long celebration of food and drink, drive by cherry blossom viewing, temple cherry blossom viewing, the list goes on. It's called Hanami. (Hana means flower and mi means to look at.) But I must warn you: Hanami is contagious.
Everybody does it. Businessmen spread a blue plastic tarp under a single cherry tree in the middle of downtown Tokyo. (A can of beer, a pack of cigarettes...hanami!) Families spend the day in the park, eating, listening to music, playing with the dog.
Even cemetaries are filled with people picnicing under the cherry blossoms. Rowdy, drunken college students pitch tents on temple grounds. Proper Japanese ladies sit cross-legged on tables around hibachis. It's a national movement, with everyone rooting for the same team.
This year, as I plant my gardens, I find myself considering cherry trees much more often than in years past. And why not? They're noble trees: providing flower and fruit, lovely bark, interesting structure. They're generally more disease resistant than apples and crab apples, and by planting different species of cherry, you can extend the bloom season over weeks if not months. The truth is, it may be a while before I get back to Japan and some echt Hanami, and I need an insurance policy. So I'm planting cherries wherever I can: on a New York City terrace, in a Pennsylvania back yard. And come next April, I'll break out the picnic blanket and the plum wine and celebrate the cherry blossom. By looking at the flower. Hanami.