THERE really is nothing that says spring like a tree full of blossom.

Particularly I think if you are looking up through the branches at a blue spring sky and it is the cherry tree which most people would regard as the blossom tree.

It is the Japanese who have really taken this appreciation to its zenith.

They have a festival called Hanami, which started more than a thousand years ago, where people have picnics under the trees.

The optimum time is determined by forecasts on national TV so that people can enjoy the transient beauty of the flowers while they are at their best.

On a smaller scale it is well worth a trip to your nearest park or gardens to appreciate them, although often an equally good (and warmer) way to enjoy them is from the car as you drive around.

There are a multitude of varieties to choose from, in shades of white and pink.

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The flowers can be double, single or semi-double and the tree itself can be weeping, upright or round headed.

There are varieties that start flowering as early as February but the majority reach their peak in April.

There is even a variety – prunus subhirtella ‘autumnalis rosea’ – which flowers on and off through the winter months whenever it is mild and still manages to hold enough back to flower well in the spring.

This long flowering period earns it the common name of winter flowering cherry.

Many of the cherries are suitable for the smaller garden and the Japanese have started breeding newer varieties such as ‘beni yutaka’ and ‘chocolate ice’ specifically for the modern garden.

But some of the older varieties are equally good for a small space such as prunus ‘kiku shidare sakura’ with its weeping habit and big pink double flowers.

They often have good autumn colour too in shades of yellow, orange and red giving them a second season of interest.

As with most groups of plants choice is down to personal preference and seeing them in bloom can make that choice easier.

One of my favourites would be ‘tai-haku’ or the great white as it is affectionately known. It is an absolute stunner.

It has the biggest single white flowers of any cherry against copper new foliage and for a cherry makes quite a broad tree.

All varieties of cherry are lovely – enjoy them now for their fleeting beauty.

Happy spring time

SIMON BAX