Alluring Apricot

My dear friend and writing mentor, Margot Rochester, once wrote, “Naming a favorite plant is like choosing a favorite child—senseless and impossible when you love them all.” In theory I agree with my friend, but when the Japanese flowering apricot (Prunus mume) begins to bloom, reason is overruled by heart.

Though named for Japan, the country where it was discovered by Europeans, the small tree is native to China. Known there as mei, or plum, it joins the gnarled pine and the supple bamboo as one of the three friends of winter.

Some cultivars, such as the ‘Peggy Clark’ growing in my garden, have semi-double or double blooms. Flowers of the true species, however, have only five petals. In China, they represent the five blessings—long life, wealth, love of virtue, health, and a natural death.

Japanese flowering apricot, such as this beautiful 'Peggy Clark', typically grow 20-feet tall and are hardy to zone 6.

Japanese flowering apricot, such as this beautiful ‘Peggy Clark’, typically grow 20-feet tall and are hardy to zone 6.

Planted just last spring, ‘Peggy Clark’ started to bloom in the final days of December, gracing the front garden with its cupped, rosy flowers and spicy-sweet fragrance. Yesterday, when temperatures reached into the 50’s the small tree was alive with honey bees as they sipped nectar and filled their pockets with pollen.

Unlike some other early-bloomers, whose flowers can be lost in a freeze, the apricot tree will open new buds when the weather turns mild again. Typically, in the Upstate, it will bloom time and again as the temperatures fluctuate. In colder years, the flowers may not open until February.

‘Peggy Clark’ was introduced by nurseryman W.B. Clark (1876-1953) of San Jose, California. Clark, who had three daughters, named a tree for each. ‘Bonita’ is a deep red selection with double flowers on a somewhat dwarf from and ‘Rosemary’ has semi-double blooms with rosy calyxes. Though many newer cultivars are available, these three remain popular in the trade.

'Rosemary Clark'

‘Rosemary Clark’

Always a feature of Asian gardens such as Portland’s Lan Su Chinese Garden, the flowering apricot is still relatively unknown in the United States. The late Dr. J.C. Raulston, who worked to make the tree more accessible to gardeners (particularly in our region), is credited with a lovely collection at the arboretum named in his honor at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

If Prunus mume is not available to you locally, visit Camellia Forest Nursery.

11 thoughts on “Alluring Apricot

  1. beth jimenez

    Just finished walking through the JCRA grounds admiring the P.Mumes J.C. planted through the years.I’ve never planted on myself..believing I’d never be in this house long enough to see it mature enough to flower but after 20 plus years here..I wish I had.Thanks for the beautiful words and photos to highlight a tree that gives so much during the drab days of winter.
    Love your new blog

  2. entwinedlife

    Lovely Marian!
    We must be on the same wavelength, but ‘this the season!

    A new story scheduled for tomorrow morning… Including you’re favorite, JC”s & mine! Enjoy!
    Jayme B

      1. Donna DeWitt·Jones

        Thanks for starting the blog! I look forward to your article every Saturday morning and have saved many of them over the past couple of years. Being a “transplant” to the area, I have come to rely on your suggestions for plants that you have found successful in this zone.
        Donna Jones

  3. Mary Rabe

    My Bradford Pear bit the dust several years ago and I replaced it with the Peggy Clark last Spring. It even bloomed that year. It’s of course gotten bigger, is again blooming quite nicely, and I’m thrilled with my choice.

  4. Brett

    I really like the blog. Thanks for starting it.

    How much shade will a flowing apricot tolerate? I have been thinking about adding something for color that will bloom after the camillias and this looks great. But the only room I have in my yard would be among oaks in a shady spot. Would it work here?

    1. marianstclair Post author

      Brett, everything I’ve read says full sun to part shade. In my previous garden, I had a matching pair of ‘Peggy Clark’ in 8 or more hours of sun. In my new, shady garden, I’ve planted a single ‘Peggy Clark’ in the one spot with the most sun–probably 4 hours max. I have good blooom this winter, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed this amount of sun will be enough.


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