Object of Desire: Prunus mume

It was 2000—the beginning of my garden journey—I attended a Master Garden Conference and one of the many speakers, was showing photos of beautiful woodies—trees and shrubs.

Since I had been a Midwestern and Northeastern ‘City Gal” up until then—I was mesmerized by all the diversity of plants one could choose from.   

Three stars, feverish plant notes scribbled in darkness in the margins of the slide list the speaker had prepared —so began a quest for the Object of Desire: Prunus mume ‘Kobai’ —a semi-double, deep red-pink color. Blooms in the Winter Garden.  Jan-March.

One of the interesting things the speaker noted was that Prunus mume or Japanese flowering apricot, was one of the plants that uses vernalization—Latin “of the spring.” 

Prunus mume 'Kobai'

Prunus mume ‘Kobai’
Entwined Gardens viewed from above.

In the southern garden—meaning it holds its ability to flower until after a certain exposure to cold, number of weeks of growth, or other seasonal clues before flowering—who wouldn’t want this smart beautiful small tree in their garden!

My friend Gayle was sitting next to me and we made a pack to scour local North Carolina nurseries for ‘Kobai’.  

Months later, on a repeat visit to a nursery, the object of desire was spotted! Feverish phone calls made and plants put “on hold” until we could arrange transport.

A small tree–growing 15–20 ft–‘Kobai’ normally bursts forth with enticing clove scent and deep magenta blooms, the second week of January.   It gives hope in the garden, when all is snowy in rare years, or brown in most years.  

 It lures me outside to basque in the scent – purifying and uplifting body and soul, just as the Feudal Lords would create and share their gardens with the  warriors, workers, writers or artists–after battles or work–a place to go to relax and cleanse thru sight and scent. 


The world famous Kairaku-en Garden in Japan, boasts 3,000 specimens including 100 different cultivars of Prunus mume.

For centuries, the Prunus mume has inspired traditional East Asian art and poetry.  The famous Japaneses Kairaku-en Gardens were created with just that purpose in mind.  I can hardly imagine being transported with the overwhelming scent of 3,000 specimens, knowing the power of just one at Entwined Gardens!

‘Kobai’ is so memorable that every summer, since it got a little too big for it’s britches–all leafed out blocking the lake view–we contemplate elimination or heavy pruning–but then the visceral always dissuades the logic and it stays as is.

This year with the strange weather, I thought for sure the buds had been nipped in the single digit icy weather.   I was glad for the snow and ice–well for few days–but missed my favorite object of desire.  

Last week the glorious show began, a good 5 weeks later than anticipated;  I cut a few stems and brought them inside which filled the house with the anticipation of spring.


I remembered to call my friend Gayle, the talk, and grateful I am that my object of desire lures me out of my comfort zone in front of the fire–to the garden everyday–no matter how cold–to be refreshed and inspired by my smart beautiful tree; knowing that my long ago quest was well worth the effort.

 “Few plants are as closely associated with the JC Raulston Arboretum as the Japanese flowering apricot, Prunus mume.   J. C. Raulston widely promoted this winter flowering tree as a valuable addition to the southern landscape. It flowers from late December to early March depending on selection and brightens the winter garden with white to deep red-pink flowers and a delightfully spicy clove scent that warms even the coldest day.”

JC Raulston Arboretum
Department of Horticultural Science

Note:  the above link to the JC Raulston Arboretum provides a list of the Prunus Mume on display at the Arboretum.

Enjoy – living the  EntwinedLife

Jayme B

NC Certified Environmental Educator

Garden Conservancy Regional Representative

JC Raulston Arboretum Volunteer

6 thoughts on “Object of Desire: Prunus mume

  1. pbmgarden says:

    What a beauty! Really enjoyed your post.

  2. Prunes mume (my husband, Tim, calls it Prunes moo moo) is a hands-down favorite here too. Have really been enjoying all the blooms in the last few days…especially camellias…hate the weather is going to be so cold the next two nights.

    • entwinedlife says:

      The upside is less insects… I hope!
      I have been working to add more Camellias, have to build fortresses to protect from our deer friends! They are eating everything!
      Joy! Jayme

  3. Jayme, what a beautiful blog you have and thank you for visiting mine and re-blogging. Your post on the Japanese flowering apricot made me miss England and the anticipation of spring after a long cold winter when the ground seems locked in frost and it’s hard to believe anything will grow. As you say, any plant that encourages you to leave the warmth of a fire and venture out into a frosty garden is worth having, and especially one as beautiful as Prunus mume. Long may you enjoy it and best wishes to you from the other side of the world.

    • entwinedlife says:

      Thanks Deb!
      There are no chances… Reading several of your posts yesterday sent me marching with anticipation… Spring, a list of things to accomplish & more to be grateful about. Strength!

      As I bounded down the steps for the morning coffee, sunshine my cat of 19 years was seizing.
      After a 3 hour fight she was gone…
      I am grateful for you words… I a had grabbed one of my Mon’s towels to keep Luna warm… A treasured favorite with scalloped edges.
      Mom & Luna had been great friends. So I know she was watching over & happy that u was able to let go on so many levels.
      Grateful for so many things on a morning so touched by your writing so randomly across the screen…
      I have started a piece about other things that happened ad well… More to come… Off to take a healing walk at waters edge. So grateful!


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