Sign up to be emailed when new events are posted to the web site.
Winterthur's Sargent Cherry Trees
Cultivated through an extended correspondence and exchange of plants
by Chris Strand, Director, Garden & Estate at Winterthur - 4/2/2012
The flowering of the Cherry-tree is an excuse for a holiday, and thousands of men, women and children pass the day under these long avenues in more or less hilarious contemplation of the sheets of bloom.
-Notes on the Forest Flora of Japan, Charles Sargent, 1893
By the spring of 1901 Henry Francis du Pont had made an important decision. He had decided to dedicate himself to the study of horticulture, a decision that would launch him on a path that would lead to the creation of one of America’s greatest gardens here at Winterthur.
As a student at Harvard University H. F. du Pont was fortunate to be able to attend classes at the nascent Bussey Institution, Harvard’s school of horticulture and scientific agriculture. The Bussey Institution was situated on the grounds of the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. As America’s first public arboretum, the Arnold was on the cutting edge of horticultural science and provided the young du Pont with access to some of the best gardens and gardeners of the day.
A decade earlier Charles Sprague Sargent, Director of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, had made a similarly important decision. His decision would transform the face of American gardens over the next century and would forever connect the name of the Arnold Arboretum with plant exploration abroad. Sargent had decided to dedicate his efforts and the resources of the Arboretum to plant exploration in Asia. Having observed plants grown from seed collected in China and Japan he realized that the adaptability and ornamental qualities of Asian plants offered a unique horticultural opportunity. In 1892 he inaugurated his decision by embarking on a trip to observe, study, and collect the plants of Japan.
The paths of Henry Francis du Pont and Charles Sargent would cross and re-cross many times during their lifetimes. Their relationship began at Harvard and was cultivated through an extended correspondence and exchange of plants that kept Winterthur’s gardens filled with the latest Arboretum introductions. Charles Sargent also formed a friendship with du Pont’s father, Senator Henry Algernon du Pont, and in the fall of 1918 sent the Senator young trees that would become treasured specimens in the Winterthur landscape. In an accompanying letter he writes:
November 26, 1918
My dear Senator:
We are sending you three plants of the so-called Sargent Cherry… (it) is one of the most beautiful of flowering trees, although the flowers do not last very long. The tree is handsome in the autumn, too, for the leaves turn brilliant shades of scarlet.
The Sargent cherries (Prunus sargentii) are, as Sargent suggests, remarkably beautiful trees, worth a special trip to Winterthur even without their historical significance. They produce clouds of blossoms in spring, at the same time as the wine colored leaves are emerging, which creates a rich two-tone effect of pink and purple. The trees also have beautiful fall color, rare in cherries, which often includes tints of carmine and orange.
Our specimens at Winterthur are carefully situated along Garden Lane and tastefully combined with Prunus ‘Accolade’ and Rhododendron mucronulatum ‘Cornell Pink’. Their position, and the company they keep, arrests your attention when you visit the garden in spring. Part of their significance and allure is as a reminder of the two great men who grew and loved these trees and of the fateful decisions they made more than 100 years ago. For me, their decisions are memorialized in these two venerable specimens and I am reminded of them each spring when I walk the garden in more or less hilarious contemplation of the sheets of bloom.
The attached original column in pdf. format includes the botanical sketches.
PDFs for download