Through a series of wonderful coincidences, this book came to my attention while traveling in and around London in May. When I got on the plane to come home, I took it out of my backpack. By the time I got to Chicago, I’d read 170 pages. It’s a real page-turner, as they say.
The guide on our 18-person Back Roads Tour came to realize just how obsessed I am with Japanese gardens. Some of her dear friends in Kent happened to live in the cottage on Ingram’s estate so she had the driver pull a 10 minute detour to Benenden so we could go past “Cherry” Ingram’s home. She couldn’t reach her friends so we didn’t get to stop, but later in the gift shop at Wisley RBG, Harriet came up to me with this book and insisted I buy it.
The author Naoko Abe wrote it in Japanese. In 2016, “her biography of Collingwood Ingram won the prestigious Nihon Essayist Club Award” (from the book cover). Recently she rewrote the book in English with additional material.
When I got to Denver Botanic Gardens in early June, I wandered through the Japanese garden with Ebi Kondo. We got to talking about cherry trees and I asked, “Have you ever heard of Cherry Ingram?” He replied “I’m reading that book right now.”
The book solved one mystery Friends of Lil`u okalani Gardens: the origin of “Okame.” Three years before our centennial began, we experimented with “Pink Cloud” and “Okame” here on Hawaii Island. Bare root plants were obtained from L.E. Cooke Nursery in Southern California, which ceased shipping bare root cherry trees two years ago. A few of the imported trees remain potted in Hilo at Mountain Meadows Nursery in Pana`ewa.
Everyone knew that Pink Cloud had been hybridized at the Huntington, but nobody knew the back story on Okame.
from page 159-160:
“In the early 1940s, forsaking Sargent cherry, Ingram decided to cross-pollinate two other wild species: Taiwan (Kanhi-zakura) and Fuji (Mame-zakura). Taiwan cherries thrived in the tropical climate of Japan’s southern islands of Okinawa. Meanwhile, the hardy white-blossomed Fuji bloomed about 1,000 miles to the north, around the mountain for which it was named. To make the task more difficult, Taiwan cherries bloomed in February and Fuji in April. Ingraham hoped to create a small but sturdy new flower, with deep-pink blossoms, out of the two distant and distinct species.
“The only problem was that he didn’t have any Taiwan cherries at the time. One place that did was the Temperate House at Kew Gardens. So there, late one February, Ingram shook the pollen from the Taiwan cherry’s ripe anthers onto tissue paper, folded them carefully and placed them in a Thermos flask with a pinch of calcium chloride at the bottom to absorb any humidity. By keeping the pollen dry and stored at an even temperature, he was able to preserve it for nine weeks until the late-flowering Fuji was ready to be fertilised. At last, Taiwan and Fuji produced a beautiful offspring.
“Ingram named his creation Okame, after a Japanese goddess of good fortune and mirth. Its flowers bloomed each March, at the midpoint between the blossoming of the Taiwan and Fuji cherries. Each tree was bedecked in countless little petals, like stars in the night sky. Each bloom was tiny and delicate, taking after the maternal Fuji cherry. But each was also tinted a light pink by the mix of the two parents’ shades. Better still, the sepals that supported the petals were a deep vibrant pink. Ingram said the flower would ‘be appreciated by all who have an eye for elegance of form and unpretentious beauty.’ He was ecstatic. ‘The offspring of this union has more than fulfilled my expectations,’ he wrote.”
Much more than solving our little plant origin mystery, this book delights with stories interconnecting some of the greats in the annals of garden history: Maryanne North, Vita Sackville West, Charles Sprague Sargent of the Arnold Arboretum, Roland Jefferson of the U.S. National Arboretum, Seisaku Funatsu, Masuhiko Kayama, and many more.
The main story is of Cherry Ingram’s collection of cherries from Japan and throughout England, preserving varieties that would go extinct in Japan. He returned Taihaku (also known as Akatsuki), presumed extinct in Japan, to the 16th Toemon Sano in 1932.
Here is a link to a more polished review of “The Sakura Obsession” as the biography is titled in the United States.