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.”
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.
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
NC Certified Environmental Educator
Garden Conservancy Regional Representative