Although billed as a biography of the great British flowering cherry fancier Collingwood ‘Cherry’ Ingram, this is in fact a comprehensive round-up of the history and symbolism of flowering cherries in general (largely in Japan), with added information on everything from Prince Charles to the 16th-century samurai Hideyoshi Toyotomi, Japanese history, botany and flower-viewing spots. There’s also quite a lot about the author, a Japanese journalist living in England. It is not exactly slow reading, but will probably appeal mainly to those already devoted to Prunus serrulata and its brethren.
There is no question that Ingram was so devoted. Born in 1880 into prosperous circumstances, he was never required to work for a living and as a boy developed a fascination with the natural world. This first expressed itself in an obsession with birds (including their skins and eggs), which he pursued with assiduity until he decided that the field was not for him after running across a scholarly paper seriously examining how many times in twenty-four hours a great tit defecated. Instead, he took up plants. It was not long before he was concentrating on flowering cherries, stimulated by a trip to Japan in 1902.
Ingram’s few months in Japan (he would visit only three times in his life) confirmed his interest in sakura (the Japanese name for the cherry), revealing to him both its extraordinary variety and its central importance to Japanese culture. Hanami (‘flower-viewing’) had for centuries been a spring ritual, an excuse