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  • Writer's pictureJulia Watson

Branching Out

Flowering cherry branches in bloom
Flowering cherry

Early spring is the time for flowering branches. At this moment in time, in my part of the world, they’re everywhere. And they’re a welcome sight – after a tough year they make me think there’s hope for better things.

For anyone interested in arranging flowers, whether that’s making a little beauty for your own home or creating floral designs professionally, flowering branches are a godsend. But if you know anything about botany or farming, you know that blooms you take off a fruit tree mean that much less in harvest, so let’s talk about which branches are best to use. Below is a list of beautiful things from Northern California, with an eye to making beautiful spring arrangements and not cutting into fruit harvest except where that’s acceptable.

Magnolia soulangeana in bloom

Magnolia Bunches in Los Gatos usually has these for sale in their shop, and I’ve bought them for my paintings. The large blooms of the M. soulangeana variety are most common, but the smaller ‘Fairy White’ variety is just as lovely.

Flowering cherry These trees are beautiful relatives of fruit trees like ‘Bing’ and other edible cherries, but you can bring their blossoms into your home without losing anything edible. I hate to think of edible cherry trees being stripped of branches that could bear fruit, but here in San Jose the climate was barely cold enough for the chill requirements of cherries, and over the past decade my own tree stopped giving fruit. I chalked that up to climate change and had the tree removed after several fruitless years. Now I have a flower bed in its place.

Flowering Quince

Quince The color is almost unreal. It’s true that quince is a fruit-bearing shrub, but I don’t know anyone who uses all the fruit, so harvesting a few branches is usually a good tradeoff. The Dave Wilson website has more info.

Redbud A California native, this small tree may be my favorite flowering tree. Someone planted redbud trees alongside ceanothus (another California native) along the 280 highway, and every spring they bloom at the same time. I have to slow down to take in the beauty.

Kerria japonica I’m adding this to my list, even though you may never see it. For many years I’ve admired the one and only Kerria shrub I’ve ever seen – it’s on one of my regular neighborhood walking routes. I had to do some research (including Wikipedia) to find out what it was. At first I wanted to buy one for myself, but I reigned in my plant lust and now I simply admire it.

One last thing - flowering branches are an inspiration for my own paintings. I've painted many, but the one below is probably my favorite.

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