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Green Acre #421: The King Kong Kwanzan

By Stephanie Cavanaugh

THIS EARLY spring morning, I’m sitting on the back-porch steps, as I’ve done for over 40 years. It’s still a bit chilly, but I enjoy watching spring happen. If I don’t keep a close eye, sometimes it seems to slip by before it’s begun. Summer comes on so fast.

It’s getting warmer by the hour this year. Full June at noon. 

Yes, I’m still sitting here. I don’t want to miss a minute of the cherry tree’s flowering. As I tell you (warn you) each year, this was a great mistake, an enormous mistake, I mean that literally. 

The Kwanzan cheery tree in the Cavanaugh backyard on Tuesday. / Photo above and on the front (after the ultimate fallout) by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

The Kwanzan cherry, also known as the Japanese flowering cherry, is described by the North Carolina State gardening site as a “small tree.” It’s a big state, North Carolina, with lots of room, so to them I suppose it is small. They say grows to 36 feet. For a small city garden that’s a damn big tree. 

One of the showiest of the Japanese cherries, they also say. How true. It’s in the rose family, they say. Who knew? It prefers sandy soil to the clay we in DC offer (good thing we have clay). It has “large wart-like glands (2-4) on petiole that look like spider eyes.” OY! That’s disgusting and nothing I’ve noticed.

They also say there’s fruit. Fruit? Well, that’s a shock. It’s nothing but green when the flowers fall, and that’s just as well. What a horrible mess that would make—rotting fruit underfoot. 

Same tree on Wednesday. What a difference a day makes. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

But, it’s glorious when in full bloom. Masses of flowers, double pink powder puffs, so light and fluffy one imagines Jean Harlow at her vanity, all satin slip and milky skin, dusting her pearly cheeks. Or sugarplum fairies poised for a jeté.

Watching it bloom, which you can do, is like watching popcorn pop. Keep an eye on that tight little fist of dark pink that has emerged from a branch and looks like a sad nothing at all, give it a minute or an hour, and it will explode into a cloud of pink that will last a few days or a week, depending on the weather, before falling in snowy pink drifts upon the beds of tulips, the pebbled walk. 

It’s too damn big, I say again. It got that way so quickly, which was the (misguided) reason for planting it in the first place. 

In the beginning, there was a schoolyard behind our house, blocked from sight by the garage that ends the garden walk. From the porch we saw nothing but sky and a few treetops. Then the school became a condo, and the yard became the site of townhouses, each four stories tall, so there was an audience for dinner. Privacy? What’s privacy?

So the tree—we did research—was big, fast-growing, and beautiful. A perfect screen. The Prince and I put hands over our ears (la la la la) as the chap at the nursery said it was too big for us. 

As I’ve also said many times, by now we expected to be in Key West, or somesuch, margarita in hand, rumps chilling in the ocean. Someone else would be dealing with the tree, no doubt drooling at the thought of the pink explosion. Maybe fantasizing about growing zinnias and roses beneath its branches. Ha.

Uh. We’re still here, and the tree is easily 30 feet tall with limbs that stretch about as far, tangling with the wisteria that clambers along the garage roof,  sprawling over the 8-foot fences that border the garden. I can clip branches from the second-floor porch. They look so fine in a vase. 

The sun dapples. I’ve come to appreciate shade gardening. Don’t you just love ferns? There is no choice. 

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